In recent months across the world, ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to peacefully protest government oppression; and many are paying a heavy price.
On the eve of International Human Rights Day on December 10, President Joe Biden shone a spotlight on the plight of such courageous protesters in the United States’ own hemisphere. “I once again call for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba who remain in detention following the July 11, 2021, protests,” he said in a statement. “In the face of oppression, these protestors bravely exercised their fundamental freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets that July day in unprecedented numbers, demonstrating against the government over the scarcity of medicine, fuel, and food, as well as the decades-long trampling of their human rights. Many chanted “Liberty!” and “Fatherland and life!”
Their cries and concerns were met with brutal, systematic violence and repression. As the U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report on Cuba states, “Security forces responded with tear gas, beatings, and arrests.” Thousands of people were arrested, including prominent human rights activists, artists, and religious leaders.
“Many of those arrested reported cruel and degrading treatment in prison,” the State Department noted. “The government conducted summary trials for some protesters; sought long prison sentences, some up to 30 years, in hundreds of cases; and held other protesters in extended pretrial detention. Some activists chose to go into exile, and the government forced others to do so.”
To date, hundreds of peaceful protesters arrested on July 11 and the weeks that followed remain in prison. Since the protests, the Biden-Harris administration has imposed sanctions on dozens of Cuban officials as well as on special forces complicit in the repression of the protesters and other dissidents.
“The United States stands with the Cuban people as they stand up for their human rights and a say in the future of Cuba,” President Biden declared. “We will continue to advocate for the release of all who were imprisoned in this brutal crackdown and continue holding accountable Cuban officials responsible for violence against peaceful protests.”