Cuban mothers denounce government for holding minors in prison for protesting

Yudinela Castro has seen her son eight times in the past six months, but says in a hushed voice that she would rather not have seen him.

“It would have been better not to visit him in prison because he came out full of scabies, a bad smell, and a hell of a color. He couldn’t bathe for days, ”said the mother in a phone call from Havana.

Castro said her son Rowland Castillo, 17, was arrested in the middle of the street and interrogated in the absence of his parents or a lawyer. He was transferred to an adult prison just days after the July 11 protests when thousands of Cubans like him called for “freedom” during the largest demonstration in six decades of communism in cities across the island.

Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro with his mother Yudinela Castro.Yudinela castro

Castillo, who turned 18 behind bars, is awaiting an undated trial. Cuban prosecutors are demanding 23 years imprisonment for sedition, one of the most common measures against demonstrators who “disturb socialist order,” according to the Cuban Criminal Code.

According to the Justicia 11J group, made up of activists, independent journalists and lawyers who document the repressive measures taken by the government after the demonstrations, the Cuban government has at least 45 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 for participating in the protests last summer arrested. According to Justicia 11J, 14 of these minors remain behind bars awaiting trial. Others have been released on bail or house arrest.

In recent weeks, the government has brought at least 204 demonstrators to justice, according to the group. Around 20 people are already serving sentences between 12 and 30 years for participating in the protests or for spreading them on social media.

Neither the Cuban government nor the state press – the only one legally permitted on the island – has published any information or figures on the detainees, trials and convictions. The official discourse has delegitimized the protesters’ demands and accused them of being “organized and funded by the United States.”

Cubalex, an independent judicial body based in Miami, estimates there are approximately 700 people still in custody and 500 pending trial or after receiving sanctions and fines for general offenses such as public disturbance, inciting crime, and the Spread of Covid were released. 19th

“The most commonly recorded age (of the inmates) is 21 years,” Salomé García Bacallao, one of the organizers of Justicia 11J, told Telemundo News a strong presence during the protests.

Noticias Telemundo contacted the Cuban government but received no response.

Parents report threats and layoffs

Four families interviewed by Noticias Telemundo said their underage children were interviewed without the presence of adults or lawyers. Some of them were picked up on the street and their parents were not informed of their whereabouts for days or weeks. During their detention, they contracted diseases such as Covid-19, scabies and dengue, families say.

“My son has never been sick,” said Yanaisy Curbelo. Her son Brandon Becerra was arrested last July at the age of 17 and has been in Jóvenes de Occidente prison in Havana for six months. The public prosecutor’s office is demanding an 18-year prison sentence for sedition.

“The worst things in his life have happened,” said Curbelo, adding that her son contracted the coronavirus and hepatitis while in prison. “My son didn’t know anything about the police, handcuffs or anything political, he was studying Spanish for his bachelor’s degree. And I saw him handcuffed as if he had killed Raúl Castro. ”

The United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF in Cuba declined to comment on the specific allegations that minors were detained and interrogated without the presence of adults, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty called Cuba signed.

“UNICEF Cuba is in constant contact with the Cuban authorities and carries out measures to strengthen the mechanisms for the protection of children and young people, works in a coordinated and transparent manner with their colleagues,” said a spokesman for the office based in Havana by email.

In November, after pressure and complaints on social networks, the agency stated in a tweet that it is “concerned about the alleged child detention cases reported in Cuba” and called on the authorities to provide information to verify the status of minors in the situation.

Some of the younger teenagers arrested following the July protests included 14-year-old Christopher Lleonart, who the family said had been detained for a month and stopped receiving treatment due to a psychiatric illness. Glenda de la Caridad Marrero, a 15-year-old girl from Matanzas province, was also arrested and charged with leading the protests there. Both were later released.

“I came to my children after three months in prison,” said Emilio Román, father of Emisyolán Román, who was arrested at the age of 17 and turned 18 in prison. The teenager’s two brothers, aged 24 and 25, are also in jail and have been charged with sedition.

“It’s too hard to hear how many years they ask for each and every one of them. They ask the youngest after 15 years, the oldest 20 years and the middle 25 years, ”said Román from Havana. “We are waiting for the trial.”

Other parents say they came under pressure from the government after posting complaints on social media.

Bárbara Farrat, the mother of Jonathan Torres Farrat, 17, who was arrested at her home on August 13, said government officials threatened to refuse her visits to prison if she continued to post on social media.

Jonathan Torres Farrat, 17, with his mother Barbara Farrat.Barbara Farrat

“They also told me that I had to make a video that speaks well about this country,” she said. Farrat went on a hunger strike in protest in December and tattooed her son’s name on his arm along with the song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem against the communist government.

“When they took the greatest thing from me, my son, they also took away my fear,” she said. “This whole situation led me to declare myself an activist. And as long as a minor is imprisoned, I will continue to denounce him. “

Yudinela Castro said she was fired from her job with a state-owned agricultural company days after her son Rowland Castillo was arrested. They told her the family’s political affiliation was the reason, she said.

“I was the head of quality control at Acopio. They took my son away on July 16 and let me go on the 23rd. They told me I couldn’t be trusted because of what my son did, “she said.

“A purely political crime”

Activists say the hate speech crime, which has been applied to more than a hundred demonstrators, is the new face of political repression on the island, where protests are rare and quickly suppressed. Justicia11J has registered more than 140 people accused of sedition.

“The crime of sedition is an eminently political crime against state security. This destroys the discourse that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, ”said García, one of the organizers of Justicia11J.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated food and drug shortages after tourism, one of the main sources of income, was almost completely shut down. According to official figures, the economy shrank by 13.4 percent in the first quarter of last year.

Cuba saw a wave of protests unprecedented in the recent history of the island, which is home to just over 11 million people.

The government responded to the protests last summer with widespread Internet shutdowns, more security forces on the streets and arrests. A number of journalists, artists and more organized political dissidents are in prison awaiting trial, under house arrest or have gone into exile.

An earlier version of this story was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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