Imprisonment of Cuban 'art-ivist' sparks charges of censorship

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Imprisonment of Cuban 'art-ivist' sparks charges of censorship

FILE PHOTO: Organizer of the "00Biennial" Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara speaks during an interview at his home in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - Dozens of renowned Cuban artists from across the political spectrum are calling for the release of dissident artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara who was arrested 10 days ago, decrying this as an outdated act of censorship.

The 32-year-old, known for his provocative performances criticizing communist authorities, has been put in "preventive prison" awaiting trial on charges of insulting national symbols and damaging property, according to his partner and art curator Claudia Genlui.

The insult charge, which carries a one-year prison sentence, came after the self-described "art-ivist" draped himself in the Cuban flag for a month last year, including in the bathroom, documenting his performance with photos and videos.

Genlui said she did not know what property he was being accused of damaging but that was a more serious offense carrying a sentence of two to five years. His supporters have called this a trumped-up charge to portray him as a common criminal rather than a victim of censorship.

The Cuban government, which usually does not comment on police activity like the detention of dissidents, did not respond to a request for comment. But one pro-government blogger published a post on the "new hero of the counterrevolution," accusing him of being a U.S.-backed mercenary.

Otero Alcantara has been detained dozens of times at police stations over the past few years but never for more than 72 hours, and he had never been thrown in jail, Genlui said.

While more than 3,000 people including prominent Cuban intellectuals, artists and opposition activists have signed an online petition calling for his release, dozens of public figures have gone on social media to criticize what they call authorities' heavy handed actions.

These include even some staunch defenders of Cuba's 1959 revolution such as folk singer Silvio Rodriguez and painter-sculptor Alexis Leiva "Kcho," who was friendly with late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

"We are giving a very sad impression of backwardness, of the Middle Ages," Rodriguez wrote on his blog. "How, in the middle of the 21st century, are we going to put ideological brakes on young artists?"

"Let's stop this now! We do not need it and the future of Cuba is freedom, not censorship," wrote Leiva on Facebook.


(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Richard Chang)