(Washington, DC) - The Cuban government should immediately cease its harassment of the blind human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leiva, a leader of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs, and his family, Human Rights Watch said today.
In recent weeks, Cuban authorities have repeatedly threatened to force González Leiva and his wife and fellow rights defender Tania Maceda Guerra to leave Havana and move elsewhere on the island. The authorities have pressed for the move under a draconian law that restricts freedom of movement.
"The harassment of González Leiva offers further proof that the Raul Castro government is willing to do everything within its power to prevent human rights monitoring, including forcibly displacing the monitors themselves," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
González Leiva and Maceda Guerra have lived in Havana since May 2007, when they were granted permission to live with and care for a blind friend. Under a law known as Decree 217, all Cuban citizens from outside of Havana must obtain government permission before moving to the capital.
In November 2009, the government denied the couple's application to renew their temporary residence status in Havana, where they are still living with their blind friend. González Leiva said housing authorities told him the refusal came at the orders of state security officers.
Since that time, security officers have repeatedly visited their home, calling them "counterrevolutionaries" and "traitors," and warning that they will be forcibly sent back to their native province, Ciego de Avila, if they do not leave Havana voluntarily. As a result, they have not left their apartment in a week.
González Leiva and Maceda Guerra have also been the victims of death threats and public acts of repudiation. Over the past several months, the email account of their organization has been hacked into and terminated, their movements monitored, and their family members threatened, González Leiva told Human Rights Watch.
"The international community needs to send a clear message to the Cuban government that such attacks on human rights defenders are completely unacceptable," Vivanco said.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch - "New Castro, Same Cuba: Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era" - found that Raul Castro has kept Cuba's repressive machinery fully active, quashing virtually all forms of political dissent. The report documents the government's continued use of Decree 217 to restrict the freedom of movement of journalists, human rights defenders, and other members of civil society who criticize the government.