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Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado speaks on his cellphone in his house in Havana on October 20, 2015.  © 2015 Reuters

(New York, December 16, 2016) – Cuban authorities should order the immediate release of Danilo Maldonado Machado, the graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” whom they arrested on November 26, 2016, and have been treating with increasing severity ever since, Human Rights Watch said today.

Police arrested Maldonado after he posted on social media a video of himself celebrating Fidel Castro’s death earlier that day. Since then, he has been held incommunicado in various detention centers for as long as three days at a time. Family members who have seen him said he had been severely beaten on several occasions and subjected to three days of solitary confinement, naked and without food. Though still not charged with a crime, he was transferred on December 14 to a high-security prison that houses convicted criminals. Authorities have given his family no information about how long he will remain there.

“Nobody should be arrested for expressing political views,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “And under no circumstances should anyone be beaten or held incommunicado, or imprisoned prior to trial alongside criminals who have been tried and sentenced.”

In the video, which Maldonado posted on Facebook, he spray-paints Se Fue (he’s gone) on the Havana Libre hotel and asks people to “come out into the streets” and “ask for freedom.” The video was later widely broadcast on YouTube.
Nobody should be arrested for expressing political views. And under no circumstances should anyone be beaten or held incommunicado, or imprisoned prior to trial alongside criminals who have been tried and sentenced.
José Miguel Vivanco

Americas director

Speaking on the phone from Havana, Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado, said that police stormed into her son’s house later that day, dragged him to a police station, beat him severely, and then took him to the Villa Marista state security prison, notorious in Cuba for holding political prisoners. There, she said, they beat him so severely that it brought on an attack of asthma, from which he suffers. Only then – 72 hours after his arrest – was he allowed to contact her so that she could bring him an inhaler.

Maldonado spent the three days in solitary confinement the week of December 4, said Alexandra Martinez, his fiancée, a US citizen who lives in Miami and was speaking on December 15 from Havana. On December 14, Maldonado was transferred to the El Combinado del Este prison where the family says that he is housed with prisoners convicted of violent crimes who may pose a real danger to his safety or even his life.

Short-term arbitrary arrests of Cuban human rights defenders, independent journalists, and artists have increased dramatically in recent years. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal, received more than 7,900 reports of arbitrary detention from January through August 2016 – the highest monthly average in the past six years.

Maldonado has long been a target of police harassment. In 2014, police arrested him for spray painting “Fidel” and “Raul” on the backs of two live pigs – for which he served 10 months in prison.

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