- Lioman Lima – @liomanlima
- BBC World News
For almost four months, a young Cuban has been in jail for standing in the street with a sign.
It was December 4, 2020 and Luis Robles Eliazástigui, 28, stood with an improvised banner on one of the most central pedestrian promenades in Havana to ask for the release of Denis Solís, a rebellious rapper sentenced to eight months for ” disrespect”.
“Freedom. No more repression. #Free_Denis”, said the piece of cardboard that the young man moved while walking in rounds and dozens of people recorded it.
A few days before, Cuba had experienced one of the largest protests in its recent history when more than 500 young people gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a group of artists who oppose the government and to which Solís belongs.
Many members of the MSI had been forcibly evicted from the group’s headquarters the day before the protest, while on a hunger strike to demand the release of their partner.
“Luis did not know Denis Solís, but I imagine that he felt identified with what happened to him, with the San Isidro Movement … and the day came when it was filled and burst, and he went out into the street,” he tells BBC Mundo from La Havana Landys Fernández Eliazástigui, Robles’s brother.
The young man, with a backpack on his back and a winter hat on his head, held the poster for several minutes, until the police arrived, took it from him and proceeded to arrest him.
It was then that something unusual happened in a country like Cuba: while he was being detained, the people who were filming him, many of them women, began to yell at the police not to beat the young man.
The videos of the arrest and the supportive reaction of those who were passing through the San Rafael boulevard began to be shared on social networks and to move from one phone to another on the island, although for weeks it was not known who had starred in the protest. or what had happened to him afterwards.
The family, according to Fernández Eliazástigui, initially tried to keep a low profile to see if he would be released, but weeks passed and Robles was still in prison, so they decided to seek help.
Now, almost four months later, they denounce that the young man has been subjected to “humiliating treatment” in prison, “stripped”, “beaten” or “wet”, placed in punishment cells, without the possibility of family visits and without access to medicines.
BBC Mundo contacted the International Press Center of Cuba to find out the official position of the government on the case and these complaints, but did not receive a response.
What has the government said?
Cuban authorities have not spoken publicly about the Robles case.
However, last week, state television referred to the young man for the first time, who, according to the presenter Humberto López, “was trying to attract attention” in a “frank act of provocation.”
“When he was required by the authorities he resisted and an altercation took place in the middle of the street,” López alleged, although in the different videos published on social networks the young man does not seem to resist the arrest and it is the passers-by who ask the police to do not mistreat it.
“This young man was arrested, he is currently in provisional prison while the investigation is being developed,” the presenter reported.
The report also served to “denounce” a “secret action” with “subversive pretensions”: an alleged protest organized by members of the MSI to demand the release of Robles.
The protest complaint was received with astonishment by the alleged organizers, who denied being involved and claimed not to know what the government was referring to.
In any case, the television space it was the first official confirmation that Robles was still in detention.
Who is Luis Robles?
Born in 1992 in Guantánamo, in the easternmost part of the island, Robles studied computer science and, according to his brother, was dedicated to repairing radios, televisions, stereos and other electronic equipment.
She has a son of 1 year and a few months, whom she helped support, and lived in a rental apartment in the capital.
“Luis is a quiet young man, but he has always had a different way of thinking and that is why he went out onto the street with a poster calling for the freedom of Dennis Solis, who is another young man who is also imprisoned for thinking differently, “says Fernández Eliazástigui.
The brother recalls that he learned of the arrest from a friend of Robles and that the family initially thought that he would be released quickly.
“We thought they were going to release him with a fine. The protest was on a Friday. We went to the police station on Saturday and Sunday, but they didn’t attend to us. When we came back on Monday, they told us that he was no longer there. No They told us where it was. No one gave us an answer, “he recalls.
Later they learned that he had been transferred to Villa Marista, the State Security prison.
“What I understand is that nothing was found to incriminate him, that is, that he was paid from abroad or that he belonged to an opposition group. But he is still detained and the file is still in the hands of the Prosecutor’s Office pending determination of a case. by which to judge him, “says the brother.
The Cuban government traditionally accuses opponents or people who protest against the authorities of being paid by the US and of being “mercenaries in the pay of imperialism.”
Unlike how it happens in most countries, the international media must request information on State agencies from the International Press Center and not directly from the institutions, which is why BBC Mundo could not contact the Cuban Prosecutor’s Office to find out their position on the investigation of the case.
After the arrest, the family filed a writ of habeas corpus to request the release of Robles, but it was denied, as was later the possibility of release on bail.
“As well we went through a lot of work to get a lawyer, because nobody wanted to take the case. Some told us directly that they didn’t get involved in something like this, others told us yes and no later than a week, until we were finally able to hire one on December 28, “says Fernández.
What are the charges?
Initially, the police handed the family a fine of 1,000 pesos (about US $ 25 in a country where at that time the minimum wage was US $ 17) against Robles for “ugly ornamentation,” apparently with his banner.
The authorities later reported that the young man was being investigated for crimes “against the security of the State”, a charge for which he could face up to eight years in prison, which has been questioned by legal experts.
“The court did not specify which of the crimes against State security he is being charged with or why, or what relationship may that protest that he carried out have with the crimes that are typified in that article,” he explains to BBC Mundo Laritza Diversent, director of Cubalex, an independent group of Cuban lawyers that is following the case.
“The court must sufficiently argue why this crime is attributed to him and why the arrest, but that did not happen. Time passed and on February 4, 60 days after the arrest. The criminal procedure law establishes that the process of The investigation should last 60 days and so far the case has not been presented to a court, “he alleges.
The lawyer indicates that her group filed a second appeal for habeas corpus which is still ongoing before the Supreme Court and expressed its fear at the allegations that the young man would be “being subjected in prison to acts that may constitute torture, ill-treatment or humiliating treatment” according to international conventions.
For human rights defense organizations, his imprisonment seeks to “send a message” to prevent protests of this type from being repeated on the island.
“In the context in which it happened, it is clear that Luis Robles was seen as a scapegoat with which he wants to send a message to those who want to protest how they will end,” Javier Larrondo, director of the NGO, tells BBC Mundo Prisioners Defenders, who advises the Robles family to present the case before international organizations.
Human rights groups in Cuba assure that the Robles case is not only relevant for its own sake, but also because of the way in which it is part of what they consider to be an “increase in repression” on the island.
According to statistics from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, during the month of February alone, “at least 373 repressive actions were documented, of which 120 were arbitrary detentions.”
What is the situation of Robles?
In the information released by state television, the spokesperson assured that he had communicated with the prison where Robles is being held.
“We spoke today with the authorities of the center where this person is currently. They tell us that he is in the area where they place the inmates in provisional prison. He is there like others in the same procedural situation,” he said.
According to Robles’s brother, the young man was transferred to the so-called Combinado del Este, the largest prison in Cuba, which is also a maximum security jail.
“No one has been able to visit him, they say because of the covid issue. We have not seen him since December 4. We only know about him by phone,” he says.
Fernández assures that in the last conversations the brother “confirmed verbally” that he had been subjected to mistreatment in jail.
It also alleges that Robles went on a hunger strike after the authorities prevented him from entering jail some medicines for the gastritis he suffers.
BBC Mundo could not independently confirm these allegations, but alternative Cuban media claim to have spoken with Robles and other inmates in jail, who ratified that version.
According to Fernández, the last information they had about his brother was that he was, for the second time, in a punishment cell.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.