Democracy Alert: Denis Solís Gonzalez
The World Movement for Democracy condemns the recent arbitrary arrest of activist and artist Denis Solís Gonzalez by Cuban authorities. Solís, a young human rights activist and musician, was arrested on November 9, 2020 and is being held on charges for alleged “contempt” after insulting a police officer. He is a member of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a group of artists, poets, LGBTI activists, academics, and independent journalists who advocate for freedom of expression in Cuba. His affiliation with MSI has made him a target for authorities, who are cracking down on dissent in a new wave of restrictions and surveillance operations in the country. His arrest highlights strategic repressive techniques such as arbitrary arrests, evictions, mobile data cuts, and violence used by Cuban authorities to harass activists.
On November 11, Solís was subjected to a summary trial in which he was sentenced to eight months in prison. Solís’ arrest led to outcry and rapid organization by MSI, which mobilized its diverse membership to organize protests, hunger strikes, and poetry readings for him. Peaceful demonstrations for his release culminated on November 22nd in Havana’s Parque Central where police and government paramilitary groups beat and temporarily arrested a dozen activists. Among those arrested was Berta Soler, the prominent human rights defender and leader of the Ladies in White group. Activists’ encounters with the authorities have been marked with violence and racially charged comments directed at Afro-Cuban protestors. Furthermore, Cuban authorities intermittently blocked social media platforms like WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter through the duration of the protests in an effort to repress growing dissent. On the night of November 26, Cuban authorities forcibly entered and removed from their headquarters members of the MSI who were on hunger strike for Denis Solís’ release, prompting hundreds of Cuban artists, intellectuals, and musicians to appear before the Ministry of Culture the following morning.
In an unprecedented move in Cuba’s recent history, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas met with 30 protestors who staged an all-day sit-in before the Ministry of Culture to discuss freedom of expression, freedom of association, censorship, and physical repression to diffuse the MSI’s activities. Activists said it was the first dialogue in a ministerial space in over 60 years. Quickly afterwards, however, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel denounced the protests and state-run media called the protests a “farce” and an “imperialist reality show.” These statements, in addition to the wrongful eviction and arrest of MSI members on a hunger strike to free Solís, have led to a recent increase in demonstrations.
Solís’ detainment has received widespread international criticism. Prominent human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Pen America, Amnesty International, Cultura Democrática, and Article 19 have released statements of condemnation.
The World Movement for Democracy expresses solidarity with activists arbitrarily detained and imprisoned in recent weeks and joins the international community in calling for the immediate release of Denis Solís Gonzalez. Join us in showing the government of Cuba that the international community will not tolerate repression and attacks against the right to the freedom of expression by sharing this alert.