The sombrero-wearing Pope left Mexico to arrive at Cuba – the next stop on his Latin American tour.
Pope Benedict XVI delivered a tough message on drug trafficking during his trip to Mexico. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed in the hope that he uses his time in Cuba to speak out about human rights on the Caribbean island.
There are fewer institutions that have more influence over the Cuban authorities than the Catholic Church. For example, back in 2010 pressure from the Pontiff led directly to the release of dozens of political prisoners.
Despite the release of those many political prisoners, and a change of Castro leadership in recent years (from one brother to another), major human rights issues in Cuba still need to be addressed: the basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are all severely limited. Just last week we released new figures that showed the number of reported cases of harassment of human rights activists had leapt by a third, a report the BBC picked up on.
Also last week, we sent out an urgent appeal to our supporters telling them about two brothers who are serving prison sentences in Cuba for listening to hip hop during a Christmas celebration with family and friends. It seems unbelievable that both Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz can be serving time for listening to hip hop. The authorities reasoned that as the songs being played came from a Cuban hip-hop group whose lyrics criticised the lack of freedom of expression in Cuba that was good enough to throw them in jail.
It is of course purely coincidental that the pair are also members of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs (Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba) and both are independent journalists.
They are still there. You can take action on their behalf.
We want the Pope to take action too. Let’s hope the pontiff grasps the opportunity and calls for the release of the dozens of other prisoners of conscience held in Cuba and the end of the harassment of legitimate human rights defenders.
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