HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban Conference of Religious Leaders (Concur) is an organization made up of Catholic clergy that serve in Cuba. On Sunday, July 18, they announced on their Facebook page a new service to accompany relatives of those jailed following the July 11 demonstrations.
In the message launching the project, they explain that the service will focus on guidance in preparing a habeas corpus appeal, help locating those detained, and spiritual and psychological support for families.
Joeluis Cerutti Torres, a physics professor at the University of Havana, is one of the promoters of the service. He explained that the principal motivation is to stand beside those who are suffering as part of the Christian commitment; however, he notes that sometimes that process of accompaniment calls for more “concrete” help.
“A mother who still doesn’t know where her child is, won’t sit down to talk without first doing everything possible to locate that child. In that sense, it seemed useful to aid whoever wants to present a habeas corpus petition and try and locate those detained. That might involve calling places, or going with the family to the offices that supposedly give out that information,” he stated.
Joeluis Cerutti said it’s not that difficult to file a habeas corpus petition and anyone can present one. However, their service can be useful for those who aren’t familiar with the details of these processes. “It’s not a matter of just presenting a form; it’s about supporting a person who needs you to explain what the paperwork is for, and maybe you accompany them to present it, if for whatever reason they ask you to.”
Although the project was just launched hours previously, Cerutti noted that the person in charge of receiving calls was already surprised by how rapidly interested people had responded.
According to Eduardo Llorens, a Catholic priest from the Company of Jesus, since July 12 they’ve already filed around twenty habeas corpus petitions. The authorities responded to these within the established timeframe, but always with the same words: they declare the petition “unfounded”. However, in each case they’ve also obtained valuable information about the condition and the location of those in jail.
When they’ve accompanied families to the detention centers, Father Llorens says, the results have been similar: either evasive responses with almost no information, or very general information. Nonetheless, “the most important thing is to make the cases visible and show that there are people interested in finding out where those detained are being held.”
He also clarified that most of the situations they have been able to attend are in Havana. When they receive requests from other provinces, they accompany them as much as possible or try to contact someone in that area who can assist. “We should be clear that we won’t be able to accompany everybody. That’s impossible. But for those we can, we’re trying to offer high quality support.”
The exact number of those detained as a result of the protests on July 11 is still unknown. Different groups and civil society organizations are working to disclose all possible information regarding those who remain in jail. Often the family doesn’t know where they are, or their legal status.
The most recent of such efforts is a list that a group of volunteers is working on, together with Cubalex, an NGO dedicated to the defense of human rights in Cuba. Up to the moment, they’ve posted 505 names of people detained as a result of these efforts. Some of them have already been freed, but the whereabouts of others is still unknown.
In cases where there’s information, the document includes the province where the detention occurred, the place and hour the person was last seen, their age, the progress of their legal case, and up to what point their case has been verified.
Reactions to the detentions at Havana universities
On Friday, July 16, a group of students, professors and alumni from the University of Havana delivered a letter to the main offices of the Ministry of Higher Education. The letter, still open to new signatures, is addressed to the Minister, Jose Ramon Saborido. It demands the immediate release of the students detained for protesting.
“We believe that – in view of the time elapsed (over 96 hours) – their situation is in a state of irregularity,” it emphasizes.
The signees requested the Ministry’s immediate intervention in the matter, since it’s a violation of the rights of those being educated. They also urged that the transparency of the corresponding judicial processes be guaranteed.
The document demanded an immediate statement from the Ministry of Higher Education in regard to these occurrences, as well as the systematic publication of each student’s situation, until their definitive liberation is obtained.
Fearing later administrative reprisals, the letter asks the deans of the institution not to levy any sanctions against the freed students.
The Ministry responded with a brief note that only addressed – and partially – one of the issues raised in the letter.
In their official note, the Ministry of Higher Education alleged that the participation of the university students had been minimal, and only in a few localities. “We are staying abreast of the investigation process. We trust, like all our people, in the proceedings of the competent authorities.”
After receiving the response, the university community reiterated their demand for the immediate liberation of all the students. The Ministry’s message ignored this matter.
Students from the Faculty of Audiovisual Media Arts from the Superior Art University also issued statements against inciting violence. They criticized the official media campaign to discredit the protests.
In addition, they declared themselves in favor of transparency in information, and the right of Cubans to demonstrate peacefully. They expressed their disagreement with the government’s call for large gatherings to repudiate the July 11 protests.
“We feel it’s not the best example to give the population, in view of the epidemiological situation in Cuba and the rise in the number of infections and deaths from the Sars Cov-2 virus on the island this past week. The activity that was convoked is in contradiction to the most basic indications of the Public Health Ministry in Cuba and of the international public health bodies,” those signing the statement declared.