(New York) — Amnesty International said today it is concerned about the safety of the activist group “Ladies in White” as the one-year anniversary of their leader’s death approaches on Oct. 14, and called on authorities to ensure the women can mark the anniversary without harassment or intimidation.
“Given the Cuban authorities’ shameful record when it comes to the treatment of human rights activists, we are concerned for the safety of the Ladies in White as they commemorate the anniversary of the death of one of their members,” said Javier Zúñiga Mejía Borja, special advisor for regional programs at Amnesty International. “Our request is simple: the Cuban authorities must ensure that the Ladies in White and other activists in the country can express themselves freely.”
The activists will be travelling from across the country to attend mass at the Church of Santa Rita in Havana and carry out a silent march marking the death of Laura Pollán, who died on October 14, 2011 of cardio-respiratory arrest.
The Ladies in White have been subjected to a permanent campaign of intimidation, harassment and short term detentions to stop them from peacefully campaigning for the release of political prisoners and greater civil and political freedoms in Cuba.
On September 20, around 50 members of the group were arrested as they traveled to Havana to participate in activities to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy and in memory of late political activists.
They were held for several days before being released without charge. Various members of the Ladies in White based in the capital also received intimidating notes aimed at discouraging them from taking part in activities.
On March 17, 18 Ladies in White were arrested during a peaceful demonstration on the ninth anniversary of a crackdown on dissidents, which led to the imprisonment of 75 government critics.
All were released except for Niurka Luque Álvarez, who was released on October 5, pending trial on charges of “violence or intimidation” against a state official.
On March 18, Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were detained at their home in Havana when around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. They remain in prison without charge.
In February this year, authorities in Cuba prevented members of the Ladies in White from reaching the group’s headquarters to attend an event in memory of the second anniversary of the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on hunger strike in protest at his unfair incarceration.
The organization Ladies in White was formed by a group of female relatives of the 75 prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in March 2003 for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government.
The group attends mass every Sunday in the capital, Havana, dressed in white, to pray for the release of their relatives. Afterwards they take part in a procession from the church to a nearby park, carrying white flowers. Following the release of all the prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, the Ladies in White have been campaigning for the release of other political prisoners and to lift restrictions on fundamental civil and political freedoms in Cuba.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.