Cuban authorities interrupted a demonstration by a group of dissident artists, academics, journalists and activists, expelling them from their headquarters where they had declared a hunger strike against restrictions on civil liberties.
Authorities said they had to intervene late Thursday due to violations of hygiene protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the group said it was an “absurd” pretext to end a protest that had shone the spotlight on rights violations in the one-party state.
“They broke in, smashing the door,” Iliana Hernández, a freelance journalist, said in a video broadcast live on Facebook. “Many soldiers, as if they were doctors in coats.”
Hernández said police detained her and others before taking them home. The group said as of 1 a.m. local time, three of the 14 detainees were still not in contact.
Little was known about the San Isidro movement before publicizing the protest on social media, uniting normally broken Cuban opposition groups in sympathy and drawing criticism from the authorities of a human rights group such as Amnesty International .
The movement was founded in 2018 to oppose a new decree limiting freedom of expression, often resorting to irreverent artistic performances. He has had numerous clashes with the Cuban Communist authorities, who frown at public dissent.
After members of the group protested an eight-month jail sentence for rapper Denis Solis for contempt of court, security forces besieged his Havana headquarters this month. Eight members and supporters of the movement then declared a hunger strike and declared that some did not drink water either. Reuters could not independently verify this as security forces blocked access to the premises.
Coming in the midst of Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, events have galvanized some Cubans who are generally hesitant to speak politically in order to criticize the government’s handling of the situation.
Leading Cuban artists, including musicians Carlos Varela and Haydée Milanés and filmmakers Carlos Lechuga and Claudia Calviño, have called on the government to show tolerance.
“We called for dialogue,” Milanés wrote on Facebook Thursday evening. “We were not listened to.”
The activists who had already been released Thursday evening vowed to continue fighting. “Denis Solis remains in prison,” wrote writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez on Facebook. “We cannot leave him alone.
The government said it was prompted to act on Thursday by Alvarez joining the strikers without notifying authorities of his change of address soon after arriving in Cuba from the United States.
A member of the San Isidro movement, Michel Matos, said if authorities were really concerned about the coronavirus, they would not have allowed him and most of the others to return home.
The government said the dissidents were mercenaries who sought to destabilize Cuba. This week state media reported that the hunger strike was a spectacle orchestrated from Miami and Washington.