Prisoners Defenders Reports on Torture in Cuban Prisons

Photo: El Toque

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – NGO Prisoners Defenders (PD) presented its first Comprehensive Report on Torture in Cuba, on May 30, 2023. The document analyzes 15 types of torture and other cruel treatment of 181 political prisoners on the island, out of a total of 1277 prisoners recorded during the period that spans from April 2022 until March 2023.

The presentation of the report was attended by Dita Charanzová, Vice President of the European Parliament (EP); Javier Larrondo, president of PD; Cuban lawyer Fernando Almeyda; Leopoldo López Gil, a member of the European Parliament of Venezuelan origin; Juan Salafranca, a member of the European Parliament and the European People’s Party political group, and former Minister of Government of Bolivia, Carlos Sanchez Berzain.

The document is mainly addressed to the Human Rights Council. the Committee against Torture and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, all of which belong to the United Nations, the Cuban Commissioner at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), several connected court reporters, embassies and representatives of over 50 democratic Governments, the press and relatives of prisoners of conscience, activists and Cuban and Latin American civil society.

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines the term “torture” as:

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The Cuban State has been accused of committing acts of torture in prisons; a common and systematic practice against anyone who dissents. Some of the most famous people the regime has tortured include writers  Heberto Padilla, Reinaldo Arenas and Pedro Luis Boitel; activist Orlando Zapata; and thousands of people being held prisoner at Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP).

Citizen-led protests and a surge in torture in Cuba

Reports of torture increased in Cuba after mass protests in July 2021. According to Prisoners Defenders, victims were predominantly dissidents, activists, independent journalists and their family members; but also protestors who hadn’t pronounced their political stance up until then. 

“The Cuban government uses torture as a means to get a fabricated and false confession, with the objective of keeping activists locked up in jail for long periods of time,” the document reads.

This time, Prisoners Defenders had sources who had been in contact with defendants or were “direct witnesses of the incidents”: close relatives, other prisoners of conscience who had shared a cell or prison with victims and testimonies of victims who are free or on parole. The non-profit organization said that stories had been verified and witness identities had been checked.

80% of the cases studied said they had been subjected to at least five different types of torture.

Some torture patterns were repeated more than once, such as being cut off and unable to communicate; humiliation, degrading treatment and verbal abuse; being deprived of medical assistance; physical attacks; and being locked up in solitary confinement for long periods of time. According to PD, the trends coincide with Cuban Government practices, which they’ve been documenting “over the years, talking to hundreds of families with relatives in Cuban prisons.”

The organization highlights the situation of opposition member Jose Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who hails from Santiago de Cuba. There are reports that point out that since Ferrer stepped foot in jail he has suffered sonic attacks and was poisoned. PD says that this has led to gradual “physical and psychomotor” demise.

Minors behind bars

The report points out the detention of minors and the abuse they are subjected to.

Minors included in the report are Gabriela Zequeira Hernandez (victim of gender-based violence), Brandon David Becerra Curbelo, Cristian Enrique Salgado Vivar (who received racist slurs) and Jonathan Torres Farrat (who was deprived medical assistance and received degrading treatment which he survived).

The Cuban Government recently presented a report before the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It recognizes that 39 minors were sent to prison after the July 11, 2021 protests. The Government didn’t explicitly name the minors, but it did say that “administrative, reorientation and special education measures” were being implemented.

PD recalls that the young people arrested during the protests were sent to centers that belong to the Ministry of Interior (MININT), and that the charges against them – sedition, assault, contempt, sabotage and public disorders -, “have been declared illegal by the UN.” In November 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed its concern over the arrests of children in Cuba. The organization launched an appeal to the island’s authorities, asking for them to only publish verified information.

Torture against women 

Seventeen women were included in the report. The most common form of torture victims were subjected to were being cut off in terms of communication and being humiliated and threatened.

Trans woman Brenda Diaz is one of the victims that has suffered the most abuse. She is serving her sentence in a men’s prison. Then, “she was forced to dress and shave her head like a man, despite being trans. She was thrown down a flight of stairs with her hands tied in handcuffs. She was beaten and held in solitary confinement for 15 days without water to clean herself, only enough to drink,” her mother Ana Maria Garcia told Prisoners Defenders.

In early May 2023, Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of former president Raul Castro and the director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), told EFE news agency that Diaz’s story had been “blown out of proportion.” “Brenda is doing fine there,” she said. “Her mother even said she felt very calm about Brenda still being there,” Mariela Castro said.

Castro Espin’s statements were declared false by both women. Talking to her mother, Brenda “invited” the public official to visit the prison without warning, so she could see the conditions that prisoners were living in with her own eyes.

Documenting and reporting torture in Cuba

Prisoners Defenders lamented the lack of effective channels available to report authorities who commit acts of torture, as well as the ban on international human rights organizations who want to work on the island. Add to this the lack of social consensus about the definition of “torture”.

According to PD, the Government’s constant human rights violations and cruel and inhumane treatment lead to normalizing repression, because they can walk away scot-free.

In March 2022, Prisoners Defenders presented a report before the UN Committee against Torture, which reported over a hundred cases of torture in Cuban prisons. The organization normally counts the number of prisoners of conscience in Cuba, quite regularly. The last count reveals that in April, there were 1048 such prisoners on the island.

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2 thoughts on “Prisoners Defenders Reports on Torture in Cuban Prisons

  • it takes a particularly cynical report to suggest that Mariela Castro Espin, would give a damn, let alone have concern for those being tortured by the goons of MININT, under the instruction and control of her KGB trained brother, General Alejandro Castro Espin.

    Of course Mariela would defend such actions as “blown out of proportion”. Similarly reports of her loving father executing fellow revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra for failing to comply with his infallible instructions. Then there was the convenient disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos – resulting in dear Daddy, becoming Head of the Military. All dismissed as pure speculation and misinformation. What admirable family ties!

  • No surprise. As Cuban I know exactly all the mechanisms the dictatorship use to stay in power. Look to all those repressors equipped with the latest instruments to suppress the people.
    Canadian pay attention the money your spend in the island every time you going there doesn’t help the Cubans it help the apparatus to become bigger and more sinister. Not matter if you going to a casa particular or a”5” star hotel. The money going to the dictatorship.

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