Faces of Cuba’s Political Prisoners: Walnier Luis Aguilar

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban Walnier Luis Aguilar Rivera was charged with sedition at just 21 years old, after he took part in protests in July 2021 in the Güinera neighborhood, belonging to the Arroyo Naranjo municipality in Havana. 

He was arrested on July 20th that year, and his enforced disappearance by law enforcement agencies lasted a week. He was locked up with common prisoners, and his family was denied immediate access. Furthermore, Walnier was deprived of the medicine he needs, as well as legal assistance. 

The Public Prosecutor’s Office had initially asked for a 23-year sentence, without taking into account the young man’s mental disorder as a result of a head injury. After an appeal, the sentence was reduced to 12 years in prison. 

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) revealed that during the investigation phase of the trial, the authorities denied him a medical/ forensic psychological test that could have reduced his sentence.

Walnier Luis’ medical history features the special psychological treatment he’s been receiving ever since he was a child. Specialists from the Diagnosis and Guidance Center in Arroyo Naranjo verified in 2014 that he was a child with special needs, with an intellectual disability (mildly intellectually and developmentally disabled, multifactorial condition, learning and behavioral disorder).

Walnier Luis didn’t join the Active Military Service (SMA) because of his condition. The Military Recruitment Committee in Havana, that has a medical/forensic team including psychologists, decided on his exemption from SMA because of “bordering intellectual functioning” and “being non-apt” to take on natural or everyday tasks.

Repression in prison and harassment of his family

In November 2022, his father, Luis Wilber Aguilar Bravo, complained that prison officers were violent towards his son and other prisoners, but these attacks remained unpunished under the Cuban Government’s protection. The attack against Walnier took place in the afternoon of October 8, 2022, at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana.

“This is what Lieutenant Escalante does, he’s a torturer. He took one person, who was handcuffed just like my son, and hit him in the head with a baton, cracking it open; and he slapped another one. My son was handcuffed and sprayed, then they threw him down the stairs. This is the truth, the one you don’t want to investigate,” said the father.

According to his account, Walnier Luis asked Lieutenant Escalante for the first-aid kit and to be taken to the doctor for his headaches, but the Lieutenant ordered him to strip naked. The father said that he went to the National Directorate for Prisons at the Ministry of Interior on 15th and K Streets to talk to superiors, who told him that prisoners are only forced to strip naked when being checked for “knives, problems and things.” He said that after they handcuffed his son “with all of the force they could, and once the situation was under control, three of them sprayed pepper spray into his eyes.”

The father filed a complaint about the attack through legal channels available for complaints, but he received a response that blamed the young man for what happened. The father expressed his disapproval of the response and accused the officers of abuse of power, impunity and lying about the case.

“Whose hands are our children in? Right now, asking for freedom is the worst crime here, and that’s why my son is in jail, not because he stole from someone, or scammed someone or hurt anyone. He joined the protest to ask for freedom. Why are they abusing him like this?” the Cuban complained.

In July 2022, the father of the young prisoner of conscience was arrested arbitrarily by State Security and given a 500 peso fine. He also reported that the authories had him under siege and had cut his Internet access. 

Then, in February 2023, he reported a new aggression against his son at Combinado del Este. They changed Walnier’s cell as a repressive measure after his father joined the “Cuba de luto” (Cuba is mourning) movement. The director of the prison handcuffed him and when transferring him, threatened: “don’t resist, because I’m going to charge you.”

The father pointed out that what they were doing to his son was abuse: “You are hitting our weakest spot, our children. You’re criminalizing the pain of Cuban families, the pain of mothers, of fathers. Don’t let anything happen to my son, he went in healthy and safe.”

The political police’s harassment against him is ongoing. In November 2022, he was arrested and a month later, he was stopped from meeting US congressmen Mark Pocan, James McGovern and Troy Carter, who were visiting Havana.

In February 2023, the Police put him under siege, so he couldn’t go outside. They accused him of calling for a walk to the El Rincon sanctuary on the 18th that month. “They’re treating me like a criminal, they’re telling people they interrogate to stay away from me. I didn’t lock up anyone’s child. The only thing I’m doing is asking for freedom, because freedom in Cuba is in mourning,” he said.  

He also said that the children, especially his granddaughter, were traumatized by State Security’s harassment; accusing the Cuban Government of violating his and prisoners of conscience’s rights, and he said that he will continue to demand freedom “today and always.”

Complaints to Human Rights Organizations

Aguilar Rivera’s case was presented by the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) to the UN Working Group about Arbitrary Detention, in early 2022.

One of the points the OCDH based their complaint on to the UN, was the “refusal of a medical forensic psychological test in the investigation and trial period,” a fact that “proved their predisposition to sentence him.”

Yaxis Cires, the director of Strategies at OCDH, said that he was waiting for a declaration from the Working Group, declaring the arrest arbitrary and ordering the Cuban Government to release the young man, demanding reparations for all the harm done to him and his family, “by violating their rights in an unfair trial.”

“Sedition is the crime chosen to plant fear in the Cuban population: it brings 10 to 20 year prison sentences or even the death penalty. The accusation, trial and likely sentence for sedition forms a key part of the repressive pattern that has been designed against young people who continue to demand their rights and freedoms, by making an example of them. Walnier Luis is the victim of this plan,” the OCDH  stated in its petition to the UN.

In July 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted protection measures in favor of Walnier Luis Aguilar Rivera and another prisoner of conscience, Ibrahim Dominguez Aguilar, after concluding they were imprisoned in grim conditions and irreparable damage to their rights in Cuba.

At the time of Walnier Luis’ detention, the IACHR criticized him being locked up in prisons with adults and ordinary criminals until he was taken to the Combinado del Este prison, where he is being held with “dangerous” prisoners in cells dedicated to strict observance. The text complained that Walnier Luis wasn’t being given proper medical attention despite his fragile mental health, since July 2021, which has led the prisoner to express suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, communication with his family is hindered, the conditions of his imprisonment are considered “harsh” and he is suffering abuse and threats from prison authorities to get him to confess to crimes or blackmail to “keep good conduct” in prison.

Believing Walnier Luis Aguilar Rivera’s rights and physical integrity are in irreparable danger, the IACHR asked Cuba to adopt a series of necessary measures to protect his right to life, physical integrity and health; to ensure the conditions of his imprisonment meet international standards, and to notify him and his representatives about actions being taken to investigate alleged events that led to the protection measure, and thereby preventing it from happening again.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.