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Artist Tania Bruguera was detained this morning in Havana hours before a scheduled protest against police violence and racism, reports Diario de Cuba. The demonstration was prompted by the killing of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano, a Black Cuban man who was shot by Cuban law enforcement.
In a post on her Facebook yesterday, Bruguera had announced plans to attend the protest, slated to take place in front of the Cine Yara cinema in Havana at 11am. Around 6am, she was seized at her home “by the military or by police dressed as civilians — kidnapping,” according to a separate post on the artist’s profile attributed to her sister Deborah Bruguera. A screenshot of a text message conversation between them shows a message from Tania Bruguera saying, “Me llevan” (“They’re taking me”).
Bruguera was apparently detained under the pretext of “pandemic contagion,” her sister writes. But a photograph of the artist preparing for the protest shows her wearing a face mask and glasses.
“We won’t allow Tania Bruguera nor any other peaceful protester, all of whom have been asked to comply with hygiene regulations, mask use, social distancing, and are responsible activists, to be improperly and illegally charged with an inexistent ‘pandemic contagion.’ Enough with the threats and repressive strategies,” Deborah Bruguera continues.
Several other artists and activists have also been detained or placed under house arrest, including Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruis, Ariel Maceo, Maria Matienzo, Michel Matos, Carlos Lechuga, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara — whose arrest while on his way to an anti-censorship protest convened by the local LGBTQ+ community earlier this year prompted hundreds to demand his freedom.
Bruguera was arrested by Cuban officials in 2018 after months of protesting against Decree 349, a sanction proposed by the country’s government to censor the arts and severely limit artistic production that was later scrapped.
The human rights organization PEN America was swift to condemn Bruguera’s seizure. In a statement released this afternoon, Julie Trébault, director of the organization’s Artists at Risk initiative, called it “just one more iteration in the Cuban government’s efforts to exert a vice-like grip over the cultural sector.”
“When an artist who uses her voice to call for justice and social change finds herself arbitrarily detained on her own doorstep, it is obvious that a serious injustice has occurred,” Trébault said. “We call for Bruguera’s immediate freedom, as well as an end to the ongoing harassment and imprisonment of artists and activists across the country who merely exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression.”