The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest dissident organization on the island, denounced the disappearance Tuesday of its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, from records at the prison where authorities told his family he was being held.
Ferrer was arrested on October 1 amid a raid of UNPACU’s headquarters in which Cuban police looted the place for both alleged “evidence” of criminal activity, such as computers and documents, and hard-to-find goods like milk and other food items. It was the second such raid in two months.
Ferrer’s wife, Nelva Ortega, was allowed to visit Ferrer on October 4, but neither she nor anyone else has been given any proof of life since then.
The NGO Freedom House demanded this week that the Cuban communist regime free Ferrer, who already served seven years as a political prisoner following his arrest in what is now known as the 2003 “black spring.”
The Cuban regime has not publicly charged Ferrer with any crime or commented on his arrest. Pro-communist accounts on Twitter began circulating a video this week accusing Ferrer of being a “murderer” without providing any evidence.
Carlos Amel Oliva, an UNPACU youth leader, told Diario de Cuba on Tuesday that Ortega went to visit her husband and was told he was not at the Aguadores prison where she had been told he was being kept.
“At the door where they receive family, the official who attended to them began looking through the list of inmates and José Daniel wasn’t at the prison,” Oliva said. “The official made a gesture like he had put his foot in his mouth and called his superiors. After 40 minutes, they sent Ortega to an office and told her she would not receive the visit.”
Oliva said Ortega got agitated by the news and the soldiers controlling the prison “harassed her and intended to strip search her,” Diario de Cuba reported. They later confiscated her telephone and told her she was banned from the prison for at least a year.
Ferrer’s situation is particularly alarming because he suffers from several physical ailments that require regular medical care, including “an ulcer and has a serious problem in an infected tooth caused by a beating he received from police officers in another long-term arbitrary detention,” the NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders said in their protest to the United Nations Human Rights Council sent to the international body on Saturday.
The beating they refer to occurred after his arrest and beating in August, in which UNPACU members say police again looted their headquarters and stole medicine from their cabinets. Cuba is currently suffering a medical crisis as the communist regime has failed to keep basic medicines stocked in pharmacies used by non-elites.
“Since his release [following the 2003 seven-year sentence] from prison under ‘extrapenal license,’ with limited movement and the original sentence still in force, José Daniel Ferrer has been detained more than 100 times without charges (more than once a month since 8 years ago),” Cuban Prisoners Defenders noted to the U.N., “most of the time in an extremely violent way, with brutal beatings, threats and assaults on his house on dozens of occasions, subtracting all his personal belongings, whether technological material and communications means or food, household goods, books, or furniture.”
“While the last events have taken place, José Daniel Ferrer remained detained and incommunicado, even as we have described with no known whereabouts or signs of him, not only from day 1 until October 4, the only and last time the family has seen him alive or had any contact with him, but also since that day,”the group noted.
In a statement Tuesday through its Latin America and the Caribbean programs director, Deborah Ullmer, Freedom House demanded that the Cuban regime “immediately and unconditionally release José Daniel Ferrer, the UNPACU members arrested with him, and all prisoners of conscience”: “The arrest and detention of these activists without an explanation of the charges against them is alarming, even more so considering that one of those detained is a minor.” The minor is Ferrer’s 16-year-old son, who has since been released.
Freedom House joined Amnesty International, which condemned the Cuban communist regime last week for having “harassed and intimidated José Daniel Ferrer García for more than a decade due to his political activism.”
Oliva, the UNPACU youth director, confirmed to Martí Noticias Tuesday that no one has seen Ferrer since Ortega visited him on October 4, and there is no public confirmation that he is safe and healthy.
The Castro regime – still commandeered by dictator Raúl Castro – denies the existence of political prisoners on the island. Castro was last asked about the prisoners in 2016, when President Barack Obama visited Cuba, to which he responded, simply, “What political prisoners?”
Cuban Prisoners Defenders has certified the existence of at least 126 political prisoners in Cuba, 50 of them members of UNPACU.