New reports on the condition of Cuban artist and political prisoner Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been held at the maximum-security prison Guanajay for more than a year, have reignited calls for his release online. On August 16, his Twitter account shared that he was confined in a punishment cell “without the possibility of seeing the sun.”
“The cramps in the hands and feet persist. His health continues to suffer,” his Twitter account wrote, citing a phone call Otero Alcántara made from the prison.
Otero Alcántara, a leader of the San Isidro protest movement, was sentenced to five years in prison in June following closed-door trials in the Cuban capital of Havana. His sentencing continues to draw international condemnation from human rights groups, who accuse the Cuban government of retaliation against the artist for his involvement in demonstrations over the falling standard of life in the country.
On August 5, his Twitter account shared reports from Otero Alcántara that he had been assaulted by a fellow prisoner. According to the online outlet Cibercuba, Otero Alcántara was transferred to an isolation cell. Along with other prisoners, he has reportedly suffered from dengue, a mosquito-borne viral infection which causes fevers and rashes.
Earlier this year, the artist waged a hunger and thirst strike to protest his indefinite detainment. Few updates from the prison were given to his family and friends about the state of his health.
Otero Alcántara, a vocal defender of artistic freedom in Cuba who was named one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2021, was arrested in July of that year while en route to a demonstration in Havana. He was transferred to prison and remained in detention for more than seven months without receiving a court date. Cuban law states that a person cannot be detained for more than six months without receiving a trial.
The artist has been arrested numerous times since the beginning of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s regime in 2018. His arrest in 2021 drew renewed international attention as it came during historic mass protests on the island that saw numerous artists, activists, and journalists arrested on dubious charges.
Otero Alcántara stood trial with musician Maykel Castillo Pérez, whose song “Motherland and Life” was adopted as a protest anthem. Castillo Pérez was arrested by state security officials in May 2021.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the artists were arraigned on a laundry list of charges including public disorder, contempt, and, in Otero Alcántara’s case, “insulting national symbols” for his use of the Cuban flag in the performance piece Drapeau, in which he wore or carried the flag uninterrupted for a month. Castillo Pérez was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“They are two emblematic examples of how Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices, including through charges of alleged crimes that are incompatible with international law,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement upon their sentencing.