Cuban authorities broke up a protest by a group of dissident artists, academics, journalists and activists by evicting them from their headquarters where they had declared a hunger strike against curbs on civil liberties.
Authorities said they had to intervene due to violations of hygiene protocols to prevent coronavirus spread. The 200-strong group said this was an “absurd” pretext for ending a protest that shone a spotlight on rights abuses in the one-party state.
“They entered by force, breaking the door,” said journalist Iliana Hernandez in a video livestreamed on Facebook. “Many military people as if they were doctors wearing gowns.”
Hernandez said police had detained her and others before taking them to their homes. Later that night the group said three of the 14 detained were still out of contact.
The San Isidro Movement had been little known before it publicised the protest on social media, uniting Cuba’s normally fractious opposition groups in sympathy and drawing criticism of authorities by human rights group such as Amnesty International.
The movement was founded in 2018 to oppose a new decree limiting freedom of speech, often through irreverent artistic performances, and it has had numerous run-ins with Cuba’s Communist authorities that frown on public dissent.
After group members protested against an eight-month jail sentence for rapper Denis Solis on charges of contempt, security forces besieged its headquarters a month ago.
Eight members and supporters of the movement then declared a hunger strike and said some were not drinking water either.
Coming amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, the events have galvanized some Cubans who usually shy away from talking politics to criticize the government’s handling of the situation.
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