CASE UPDATE: Free Yorubas, Cuban Dissidents Face 8-10 Years in Prison for Participation in 11J Demonstrations in Placetas
Earlier this week, the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office of Placetas in Villa Clara sentenced over ten individuals to 8-10 years in prison for participation in protests that took place on July 11. Charges were filed against several members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba and other opposition group affiliates for a variety of crimes including disobedience, public disorder and assault/attack.
Those accused included Free Yorubas President Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Vice President Loreto Hernández García, sisters Lisdiani and Lisdani Rodríguez Isaac, and opposition group affiliates including Arianna López Roque, Mitzael Diaz Paseiro, Nidia Bienes Paseiros, and Ciro Alexis Casanova Pérez
The prosecutor’s account of what transpired seems to intentionally refrain from any reference to acts of protest or demonstrations that occurred on July 11. The State’s summary of events that occurred mentions congregations of persons voicing offensive slogans against President Diaz-Canel and the Cuban government, and acts of resisting arrest. Generally, the document was crafted to imply the accused were inciting rebellion and chaos, when instead they were exercising their constitutionally protected fundamental right to peacefully protest and express themselves freely in a public space.
The prosecutor’s narrative alleged that defendants Mitzael Diaz Pasiero, Arianna Lopez Roque, and Nidia Bienes Pasiero congregated towards Third Street South in Placetas, and rallied others to join the group as they voiced frustrations with current living conditions in Cuba. Loreto Hernández García, Donaida Pérez Paseiro, and sisters Lisdiani and Lisdani Rodríguez Isaac also joined in as the group shouted anti-government statements with the goal of “creating chaos and anarchy.”
According to the prosecutor’s summary, members of the Ministry of Interior (MININT) were deployed to restore order. Municipal Delegate Hector Orlando de la Fe Freyre, whom the Free Yorubas have accused of police abuse in the past, as well as officers Livan Brito Aragon and Ricardo Gonzalez Abreu attempted to detain Mitzael Diaz Paseiro but were unable to do so due to the size of the crowd.
At that point, Nidia, Arianna, Donaida, Lisdani and Lisdiani allegedly pulled officer Livan Brito Aragon and Ricardo Gonzalez Abreu away from Mitzael, without causing injury. After some commotion, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro was eventually detained and transferred to a National Revolutionary Police (PNR) Station.
The group, including Donaida, Lisdani, Lisdiani, Nidia, Arianna, and Ciro Alexis Casanova Pérez, moved on to the Municipal Park where they continued shouting anti-government phrases. At that point, the prosecutor alleges regime supporters were present at the park to “contrast the actions of the accused.” The DA’s office goes on to describe an altercation involving Lisdani and Lisdiani and a Cuban regime supporter over a megaphone. During the altercation, the prosecutor alleged an old man and fellow civilian fell to the ground, and another was hit in the face.
The Rodríguez Isaac sisters were also accused of trying to hit a counterintelligence officer on the back, arms, and head.
The summary of events goes on to describe the group moving towards the outside of the Military Institution where more offensive words were voiced and threats made to force entry into the facility to free Mitzael Díaz Paseiro.
Unfortunately, narrative regarding Free Yorubas Vice President Loreto Hernández García’s involvement and charges were incomplete. Last week, Hernández García called relatives and assured them that he, Ciro Alexis Casanova Perez, and Mitzael Díaz Paseiro refused to sign a document with the prosecutor's request and as a result were refused copies of their charging document.
Mitzael Díaz Paseiro is currently held in the notoriously brutal La Pendiente prison in Villa Clara, along with Loreto Hernández García and Ciro Alexis Casanova Perez. Mitzael was officially charged with one count of public disorder, two counts of disobedience/contempt, and one count of resistance for a joint sanction of eight years in prison with additional travel restrictions.
Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Nidia Bienes Paseiro and Ariana Lopez Roque were charged with one count of public disorder, two counts of disobedience/contempt, and one count of assault/attack. As a joint penalty they will each face eight years in prison with additional restrictions on travel.
Lisdiani and Lisdani Rodríguez Isaac were charged with one count public disorder, two counts of disobedience, and two counts of assault/attack for a total of 10 years in prison with additional travel restrictions.
Others included in the indictment, all similarly charged, will be brought to court to face the charges against them by the Prosecutor’s office.
A GLA legal expert familiar with cases involving July 11 demonstrations spoke about the excessive prison sentences we are now seeing. Initially the DA’s office typically sought sentences of one to two years maximum for those tried in relation to July 11 protests, but as the Cuban government sees additional protests being planned, sentences proposed have increased to 8-10 years. The timing around changes in sentence severity applied by the Cuban justice system certainly appears to be related to the regime’s desire to discourage any acts which may express anti-government sentiments.
Several of the defendants have categorically denied the charges against them. Following the prosecutor’s sentencing, Loreto Hernández García, Mitzael Diaz Paseiro and Ciro Alexis Casanova Perez, warned they would go on a hunger strike to protest what they consider to be an arbitrary process and violation of their fundamental rights such as free expression in a public space and peaceful demonstration.
Lisdani and Lisdiani Rodríguez Issac’s mother, who was present at the demonstrations, stated the marches in Placetas were peaceful, and that no resistance or vandalism occurred. In a phone call to her mother after the charges were announced, Lisdiani denounced the accusations against her, noting the charges were a lie.
Acting Yoruba leadership issued the following statement earlier today regarding the harsh sentencing of members.
We, the Members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba, in the municipality of Villa Clara, Placetas, denounce the unjust imprisonment of Loreto Hernández García, Donaida Pérez Paseiros, vice president and president respectively of the Association, are victims, along with sisters Lisdiani Rodríguez Isaac and Lisdani Rodríguez Isaac, members of the same Association, being imprisoned for passively demonstrating in the massive protest of July 11 in the Placetas municipality of Villa Clara.
Donaida Pérez Paseiro
President, Free Yorubas of Cuba
STATUS: Currently held in Guamajal Prison, Villa Clara
Ms. Pérez was arrested on July 16, after voluntarily surrendering herself in compliance with a summons issued after her participation in the protests. She was initially held in Caibarien Prison in Villa Clara, and then transferred to Guamajal Prison in Santa Clara on July 19.
Ms. Pérez has been targeted by Cuban police for several years as a leading member of the Free Yorubas. In September 2020, she was arrested, physically assaulted by Cuban police, and held overnight, sustaining injuries to her torso and face. In February 2020, Pérez was arrested alongside her husband and Vice President of the Free Yorubas, Loreto Hernández García. They were interrogated for two hours and threatened.
Loreto Hernández García
Vice President, Free Yorubas of Cuba
STATUS: Held in La Pendiente Prison, Santa Clara
Mr. Hernández was arrested on July 15 following the protests in Placetas.
On August 2, Mr. Hernández was urgently taken to see a doctor after complaining of chest pains and high blood pressure while at Caibarien prison. The doctor at the facility told him he was experiencing pre-infarction and was in a critical state of health. Mr. Hernández was then transferred to La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara on Wednesday, August 4.
Mr. Hernández, who suffers from several pre-existing medical conditions including high blood pressure, chronic asthma, chronic hypertension, diabetes, and other cardiac problems, previously reported to family members that his health has continued to deteriorate while in prison. The most recent diagnosis of pre-infarction is very concerning based on his medical history, and places him at risk of lethal complications.
Lisdiani & Lisdani Rodríguez Isaac
Free Yorubas of Cuba
STATUS: Held in Guamajal Prison, Villa Clara
Detained on July 15, the young women have been held in Guamajal prison as a precautionary measure for over two months.
GLA received reports from contacts close to Lisdiani and Lisdani prior to the sentencing, indicating the Cuban government has attempted to pressure the sisters to cooperate by spying on the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba in exchange for a lesser sentence.
Mitzael Diaz Paseiro
Former Political Prisoner
STATUS: Held in La Pendiente Prison, Santa Clara
Mitzael Díaz Paseiro has been held in La Pendiente Prison since his arrest on July 11. La Pendiente is notorious for its brutality and prisoner abuse. GLA contacts close to the case noted he has been prohibited from using the telephone to call family and police have refused to provide them with information about his status. Mitzael is reportedly the only prisoner included on the prosecutor’s sentence that has been denied telephone privileges.
His wife, Arianna Lopez Roque, who is being held in Guamajal prison, has been unable to communicate with him or her relatives. She fears for his life and safety. GLA contacts have received reports that Díaz Paseiro has been mistreated since his detention on July 11, and that he is in poor physical condition.