“I will not get tired of expressing my gratitude…”
Those are the words of Cuba’s well-known opposition leader and prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer following his transfer from prison to house arrest in early April.
Enjoy this short but heartfelt message of thanks to individuals and organizations around the world for their solidarity or this longer one in which his passion is visibly undiminished. Both were translated to English by Amnesty International’s Urgent Action participant, Michael Lima Cuadra (Twitter: @ngotranslations. IG @ngoresearcher) who spoke with José Daniel Ferrer recently.
Here is Michael’s background on José Daniel Ferrer and his account of their conversation:
José Daniel Ferrer is a leading figure in the movement for democracy and human rights in Cuba and a former prisoner of conscience.
Since 1992 he has been persecuted by State Security (political police) for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression. Following his arrest in 2003 during the crackdown on dissidents known as the Black Spring, he was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He served 8 of a 25-year sentence for his role as a Varela Project leader in the eastern provinces, collecting signatures to hold a referendum demanding changes to the constitution such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.
In retaliation for his role as the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba—a movement he founded in 2011 and which in less than a decade has carried out the largest number of public demonstrations in the island —Ferrer was arrested and imprisoned once again on October 1, 2019. Three other members of his organization— José Pupo Chaveco, Fernando González Vaillant and Roilán Zárraga—were also arrested that day.
During more than six months of imprisonment in the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba, Ferrer was subjected to physical and psychological torture. “I was harassed all the time and subjected to sleep deprivation. I was prohibited from reading and writing. My cell was small, stinky, and filled with insects and mosquitoes. Time there passed excruciatingly slowly.” Under extreme isolation, “a minute seems like an hour. An hour feels like a day. A day turns into a month.”
At the trial that took place on February 26, 2020, Ferrer and the other UNPACU activists were convicted of “injuries” and “privation of liberty.” Their conviction and subsequent sentencing – in a nation where the judiciary lacks independence and is subordinated to the interests of the ruling Communist Party – has been called “shameful” by Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. Cuban authorities prevented Amnesty International, the European Union, and the foreign press from attending the trial. Based on eyewitness accounts from relatives who attended, the trial was plagued with gross irregularities. It has been reported that witnesses for the defense were harassed by state security agents. Crucial recorded testimony from the accuser’s wife denouncing how State Security pressured her husband (the accuser) to give false testimony against José Daniel Ferrer – was deliberately excluded by the judge.
In a phone conversation with José Daniel Ferrer on April 5, 2020 he pointed out that the trial was a farce and took great pride in speaking truth to power:
Even though the regime prohibited me to speak during the trial and rang a bell to shut me up every time I spoke, I stood up to them, challenged their orders and answered back at different moments. I told them I was the one making the accusations and conveyed to them that in Cuba there are no independent courts and they [the regime] were violating their own constitution. Talking back to my jailers during the trial is something I take tremendous pride in as I was unable to do so during the 2003 trial.”
Thanks to an international campaign in solidarity with José Daniel Ferrer and the other political prisoners, they were released from the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba on April 3, 2020 and placed under house arrest. While it is good news that the courageous activists are no longer in prison where they were at risk of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, they should never have been arrested for peacefully expressing their ideas. Their house arrest convictions of four and a half years for José Daniel Ferrer, five years for José Pupo Chaveco, four and a half years for Roilán Zárraga and three years and eight months for Fernando González, are arbitrary sentences and should be vacated.
José Daniel Ferrer has conveyed his heartfelt gratitude to Amnesty International supporters for their solidarity: “My fraternal embrace and gratitude to Amnesty International for their vital work to raise global awareness and motivate other organizations such as the European Union to take action.”
Learn more about the Urgent Action Network here.