Cuban police told the 17-year-old son of José Daniel Ferrer, the head of Cuba’s largest dissident group, to relay to his imprisoned father that his only chance at freedom is to leave the country, the younger Ferrer said on Monday.
Police arrested the younger Ferrer, known as “Danielito,” and Ferrer’s wife Nelva Ortega on Sunday. Both, as well as two younger siblings of Danielito’s – the youngest seven months old – have regularly faced arrest for publicly protesting Ferrer’s detention.
Ferrer is the head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a dissident organization with a large presence throughout the island. He disappeared in October abruptly, only to resurface weeks later facing charges that could land him up to nine years in prison. Police have offered no evidence that Ferrer has committed any crime outside of demanding democracy on the island.
Cuban Prisoners Defenders, an advocacy group for imprisoned political dissidents, revealed the threat of exile in a press release Monday, based on testimony by Ferrer’s son. According to the group, police detained Danielito early on Sunday, as well as his stepmother, who was forced to leave her infant with his grandmother to avoid exposing the baby to jail yet again. Police split the family during the detention.
“José Daniel Ferrer, Jr. (Danielito) was arrested by the political police yesterday to transmit to his father the regime’s offer that ‘if he leaves the country he would not be convicted,'” Cuban Prisoners Defenders confirmed in a statement to the press, and continued: ”
Danielito and Nelva Ismarays Ortega [and] the youngest son of José Daniel Ferrer, were arrested when they left yesterday morning their home, located at the top of the UNPACU headquarters. Danielito’s detention lasted 5 hours, in which the political police tried to get him to visit his father to offer him to leave the country in exchange for his freedom. The son refused to do so and hours later he was released.
The group quoted Ferrer’s sister, Ana Belkis Ferrer, who said that she had heard from others in UNPACU that Danielito was released after five hours in custody in which they urged the minor to pressure his father to flee the country.
Ferrer also posted news of the arrest online, confirming that the arrests occurred on Sunday morning as they left the UNPACU headquarters in eastern Santiago de Cuba.
En la mañana de ayer, Domingo 9 de Febrero del 2020, sicarios castristas detuvieron a mi sobrino José Daniel Ferrer Cantillo de 17 años de edad y a Nelva Ismarays Ortega Tamayo, hijo y esposa de mi hermano José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, cuando salían de la sede. @MarioDB @marcorubio pic.twitter.com/NSANYnAlpG
— Ana Belkis Ferrer G. (@anabelkisfg) February 10, 2020
“They told me that they are going to confiscate everything in the UNPACU headquarters, that there was not going to be any more activism there,” Danielito told the independent outlet Cubanet on Monday. “But the main thing was that they wanted me to tell my father to leave the country, and I told them no, that I would never tell him that and that he would also never accept leaving because he is willing to die if it is necessary for freedom for Cuba.”
Nelva Ortega was missing until about 11 p.m. UNPACU members later confirmed on Monday that police had freed her late at night and she spent the night with the baby’s grandmother.
Ana Belkis Ferrer later wrote on Twitter that she managed to communicate with her sister-in-law and that she said police had “interrogated her and threatened to take her baby.” Police also allegedly banned her from Sunday Mass, a common punishment for Cuban pro-democracy dissidents as a large number of them tend to be practicing Catholics. Ferrer disappeared shortly after organizing a pro-democracy march in honor of the patron saint of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity. The peaceful march ended in over 100 arrests.
Nelva Ismarays me comunicó sobre las once d la noche q había sido liberada y según sus palabras la interrogaron y amenazaron con quitarle a su bebé, dijo además que los sicarios le comunicaron que no le permitirán asistir a misa los Domingo. @Almagro_OEA2015 @marcorubio @MarioDB pic.twitter.com/Mnaga82g37
— Ana Belkis Ferrer G. (@anabelkisfg) February 10, 2020
If Ferrer chooses not to leave the country, he faces up to nine years in prison on false charges of assault and kidnapping, for which the Communist Party has offered no evidence.
The Castro regime has increasingly used forced exile, a universally recognized human rights crime, to silence dissidents, as it tends to attract less attention from human rights activists than killing, imprisoning, or torturing them. In May 2019, police forced Cuban dissident Daniel Llorente – who spent over a year in a “mental health facility” enduring torture after waving an American flag at the annual May Day communist parade – on a plane to Guyana, which he said he had no choice but to take or face prison and death.
A month after that incident, Cuban Prisoners Defenders published an extensive report showing that hundreds of dissidents had faced similar pressure.
“We can, without fear of error, [say] that these cases occur at the scale of hundreds annually, and that these have affected thousands of human rights activists, independent journalists, dissident artists, religious leaders, and other organized pacific groups,” the group revealed. “The number of those not belonging to any group, and those who no one has heard news of, could [increase] the cases to many times the number deduced by this study.”
José Daniel Ferrer is believed to be enduring inhumane prison conditions that could severely damage his health. In a report in November, Nelva Ortega said that, upon visiting her partner, she found him extremely thin, with a pre-existing ulcer exacerbated by being forced to drink rancid water and eat fecal matter as a form of torture. Ferrer underwent a hunger strike shortly after that report surfaced until police offered him food that was safe to eat.