HAVANA (AP) — Two members of a loose-knit group of dissident artists have been sentenced to prison in Cuba, the country's prosecutor's office said Friday.
Maikel Castillo was sentenced to nine years for attacks and defamation against the country's institutions and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 34, to five years for insulting national symbols.
Both were involved with the so-called San Isidro Movement — named for the neighborhood where Otero Alcántara lives — that had attracted unusually wide support among prominent Cuban artists and musicians in 2020.
Their arrests had been denounced by international human rights organizations as well as the U.S. government, which considered them political persecution. The government said it was merely applying the law as it would to anyone.
Prosecutors had sought 10 years for Castillo, better by the performance name “Osorbo,” and seven for Alcántara, according to their friends.
The same court also imposed a five year sentence on Félix Roque Delgado and three years on two women who were convicted to hitting police in an effort to halt the arrest of Castillo, a 39-year-old rapper.
He was among the composers of the song “Patria y Vida” — “Fatherland and Life” — whose twist on the Communist government's "Fatherland or Death! slogan made it a sort of anthem for opposition figures. It won a Latin Grammy award this year.
Otero Alcántara's art works featuring the Cuban flag were considered disrespectful.
In November 2020, police broke up a sort of sit-in at Otero Alcántara’s house in support of another rapper, Denis Solís, who had been sentenced for prison for insulting a police officer. Castillo was among those taking part in the sit-in.
Officials said they were enforcing pandemic restrictions on gatherings, but the movet prompted about 200 people to stage a larger, almost unprecedented protest outside the Culture Ministry. That broke up after members of the group said they’d won an unusual government vow of greater tolerance for independent art.
Otero Alcántara also was the focus of protests by other artists following his arrest last year. He was hospitalized — reportedly during a hunger strike — to demand the return of works that authorities had confiscated when he was detained.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had issued statements calling the case against the two artists a “farse.”
Their arrests were not directly related to large-scale protests that broke out later in 2021 over economic hardships and government policies.