Mar 24, 2012 4:45 AM EDT
The human-rights group is seeking the release of dissident brothers
Antonio Michel and Marcos Maiquel Lima Cruz, who were imprisoned at
Christmas for singing a subversive rap song.
On Christmas Day 2010, Antonio Michel and Marcos Maiquel Lima
Cruz—brothers who are both independent Cuban journalists—were
celebrating with their family and friends, like everyone else in their
hometown of Holguín.
The brothers, both fans of Los Aldeanos, a Cuban rap group known for its
counterrevolutionary lyrics, went into the street singing one of the
group's songs and waving a Cuban flag. Their singing was reported,
either by a neighbor or a member of one of the Rapid Response
Brigades—groups of civilians mobilized to survey dissidents and report
rebellious behavior—and the police soon arrived. Both brothers were
arrested and charged with public disorder and insulting symbols of the
homeland for singing a protest song while carrying a Cuban flag.
"The authorities don't like that," explained Gerardo Ducos, an Amnesty
International researcher working on the brothers' case. For years, Ducos
said, they had been under the surveillance of local authorities for
their critical coverage of the government, and the authorities may have
been looking for an excuse to arrest them. The singing gave them that
Following a trial, Antonio Michel was sentenced to two years in prison
and Marcos Maiquel to three.
On Friday, Ducos and Amnesty International announced that they have
adopted Antonio Michel and Marcos Maiquel as prisoners of conscience and
are calling on the Cuban authorities to release them.
"It is unacceptable that a simple family party constitutes imprisonment
in Cuba," Amnesty International special adviser Javier Zúñiga said in a
statement. "The brothers' arrest shows that repression in Cuba is as
strong as ever. Authorities are sharpening their strategies to silence
dissent, targeting not only activists and journalists, but their
families and friends as well."
The Lima Cruz brothers' mother is a longtime member of the Ladies
in White, a well-known Cuban opposition movement composed of the female
relatives of imprisoned dissidents.
Members of the Ladies in White protest against the Cuban government on
the second anniversary of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata's
death in jail, in Havana, Feb. 23, 2012, Adalberto Roque, AFP / Getty Images
Since 1961 Amnesty has advocated successfully for the release of
thousands of "prisoners of conscience," a term it bestows on people who
have been jailed "because of their political, religious, or other
conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, color, language,
national or social origin, economic status, birth sexual orientation, or
As "dissidents," Antonio Michel and Marcos Maiquel were ripe targets for
the government. They were both contributors to the online newspaper
Candonga, which was shut down by authorities the same year they were
arrested. The site's editor, Yosvany Anzardo Hernandez, was also
arrested in 2009 after giving an interview to a Miami-based radio
station. His house was inspected and his cellphone, computer, books, and
magazines were confiscated, but not before he had time to destroy
Candonga's server. Hernandez was held in custody for two weeks before he
was released for a lack of evidence against him.
The Lima Cruz brothers' mother is a longtime member of the Ladies in
White, a well-known Cuban opposition movement composed of the female
relatives of imprisoned dissidents. In the last few days, Ducos said,
she has been warned by authorities that she is not allowed to leave her
"They don't want her to be seen wearing her white clothes and taking
part in demonstrations, calling for the release of her sons," he said.
The Lima Cruz brothers are just two of many in Cuba who Amnesty says
have been unfairly arrested for peacefully expressing their views. Last
year the Cuban government was convinced to release 75 people who had
been arrested during a 2003 crackdown on counterrevolutionaries, and
whom Amnesty had identified as prisoners of conscience. Ducos said while
the organization celebrates their release, only 10 or 12 of them have
been allowed to remain in Cuba. The rest have been forced into exile, he
said, moving to places like the United States, Spain, the Czech
Republic, and Chile.
Amnesty International has been in touch with the Lima Cruz brothers'
immediate relatives, who have mobilized for their release. But no one
from the Cuban government has responded to Amnesty's letters or messages.