The non-government organization Amnesty International issued an urgent call for the international community to pressure the communist Cuban government to release Danilo Maldonado Machado, an artist known as “El Sexto” who has spent ten months in prison for painting the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on two pigs.
“To jail an artist for painting a name on a pig is ludicrous,” Amnesty’s Americas Deputy Director Carolina Jimenez said of Machado’s case. “Cuban authorities are using any cowardly excuse to silence Danilo and send a message to others that any criticism of the government and its officials will not be tolerated.”
Amnesty notes that Machado was arrested on Christmas Day 2014 while traveling in a taxi with two pigs, who had the names of the Castro brothers written on them. The pigs were meant to have been publicly displayed at an art show in Havana. While he has not been officially charged, attorneys believe he is being imprisoned for “aggravated contempt.”
As Amnesty notes, Cuban law prohibits criticism of public officials:
Anyone who threatens, slanders, defames, insults, harms or in any way outrages or offends, orally or in writing, the dignity or honour of an authority, public official, or their agents or auxiliaries, in the exercise of their functions or on the occasion of or because of them will incur a penalty of between three months and one year’s loss of liberty or a fine.
Maldonado began a hunger strike on September 8, and he is reportedly in very poor health now. The PanAm Post reports that some outlets are describing him as “near death.” As the Cuban-American Babalú Blog notes, Amnesty International’s call to extend letter-writing campaigns on Maldonado’s behalf to November 10 disregard that “El Sexto may not have that long to live.”
Maldonado’s mother announced to Cuban media Friday that she has been told her son has ended his hunger strike, which lasted for 24 days. His mother said she went to visit him in prison and was told by a military officer that Maldonado “had given up his hunger strike” and “would begin eating today”–on Thursday. She later met with Maldonado himself, whom she described as in “high spirits” but looking “noticeably like he had done a hunger strike,” and that “his lips were all broken.”
Amnesty has correctly identified Maldonado as a prisoner of conscience, but erroneously proclaimed him the only one on the island of Cuba. Reuters notes that human rights agencies on the island have estimated that at least 60 people are being held in Cuban prisons for expressing a political opinion offensive to the communist regime.
Cuban officials have managed to keep the official number of prisoners of conscience down by using “temporary detention” as a way to curb the freedom of dissidents while not having to bring them to trial or giving the international community enough time to declare them prisoners of conscience. Paramount among the victims of these detentions are the Ladies in White, a group comprised of women whose relatives are currently serving time for their political ideas. Every Sunday, the Cuban government arrests dozens of members of the group following their presence at Catholic Mass, detaining them for up to 48 hours. They are later released, only to be arrested again the next Sunday.
Reports in April indicated that the Cuban government increased this type of arrest by 70% following President Obama’s announcement that he would issue the Castro regime a series of economic and political concessions to “normalize” the relationship with the rogue state. The most recent such arrest occurred on Friday morning, when a man shouting, “Down with Raúl” and “Down with the dictatorship” was arrested trying to climb the fence in front of the American Embassy in Havana.