Foreign diplomats in Cuba wait at the entrance to the Marianao Municipal Court
White House On Cuba Amid Protests: 'Communism Is A Failed Ideology' Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

Two Cuban artists known for being dissidents faced the court on Monday after spending nearly a year in prison for their involvement in human rights protests. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 34, and rapper Maykel Castillo, 39, were detained last year on charges of public disorder in April 2021.

According to the Voice Of America, Alcantara and Castillo were part of a group that call themselves the San Isidro Movement- a Havana-based activist group composed and widely supported by prominent Cuban artists who have led several protests in 2020. Both artists faced the court for the first time this week as human rights groups described the judicial process a “circus” and a “farce”.

Some family members of the accused were allowed to enter the courthouse while representatives from several embassies in Havana stood a block away from the courthouse for two hours as they waited to get access and observe the court proceedings.

Alcantara was arrested for public disorder while Castillo, also known by his stage name Osorbo, was apprehended on charges of resisting and disrespecting authority. Alcantara was charged with defaming the national flag, contempt and public disorder. Should he be found guilty of his charges, he faces 7 years in jail. Castillo on the other hand has been charged with assault and could be sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Both men appeared in a hip-hop music video “Patria y Vida,” which became the recognized anthem for the widespread anti-government protests in July 2021. At the time, activists took to the streets to participate in mass demonstrations against occurring power outages and shortages that plagued the country. This was believed to be the largest protest since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959.

Meanwhile, Cuban state media has branded Alcantara and Castillo’s movement part of an attempted U.S.-directed “soft coup” to overthrow the government. Both men have since denied these charges fuelling activists and other human rights groups to pound on allegations of repression and accusing the government of prosecuting them for breaking the law instead of political activism. The Cuban government said all individuals who were arrested before and after the July 2021 protests were given due and fair trials although several activists and friends of Alcantara and Castillo allege they have been under close watch by state security, and have been restricted from leaving their homes.

Police officers guard the entrance to the Marianao Municipal Court in Havana
Police officers guard the entrance to the Marianao Municipal Court in Havana, on May 31, 2022, where the trials of Cuban dissident artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo (Osorbo) are being held. - Two dissident Cuban artists who have been classified as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International went on trial Monday, with foreign press and diplomats excluded. Prosecutors have accused Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Osorbo of disturbing public order and want them sentenced to seven and 10 years in prison, respectively. Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

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