How Would You Feel if You Were Unjustly Jailed Every Sunday?

Monday, July 28, 2014
From the Czech NGO, People in Need:

How would you feel if you were innocent but still thrown in jail each Sunday?

As a result of the Ladies in White movement continuing to be a target of Cuban state authorities, the Czech NGO People in Need would like to bring greater public attention to two cases of Ladies in White members who have been forced to contend with constant repression over the last two years.

Keila Ramos Suarez is 28 years old.

She has been detained and assaulted 15 times between March 2013 and April 2014.

Due to the fact that her family doesn’t agree with the political opinions she holds, she has been repressed to an even greater extent. She has been thrown out of her house and left to live on the street. Furthermore, her son has been taken away from her by state authorities on account of her dissident activities. She has regularly been arrested before the weekly Ladies in White marches held on Sundays or been given orders that prevent her from participating in the Mass.

Maria Teresa Gracias Rojas is 48 years old.

She has been detained and assaulted 39 times between January 2013 and March 2014.

The state police organized a so called search of her house during which all of her belongings were destroyed; she was assaulted, and subjected to acts of repudiation and intimidation. She has been under constant surveillance, including having a police patrol car permanently parked in front of her house. She has been prevented from participating in the Ladies in White marches almost every Sunday during this time span. The police usually arrest her either just outside of her residence or in front of the local church. We would like to stress the gravity of the fact that she happened to be assaulted directly by the priest as well. Her situation has been made all the more difficult due to her daughter’s health problems for which she hasn’t been receiving any help.

The scripts and tactics the authorities use are almost always the same:

One of them is to detain members of the Ladies in White before the Sunday Mass, so that they cannot participate in their weekly protest by taking part in their common walk to the church. They are brought to the local police station for several hours where they are placed under constant psychological and physical distress: the police agents have been beating, humiliating and threatening to jail them for years, while also openly threatening to harm their families if they don’t stop their dissident activities. The Ladies in White protest every Sunday dressed in white, as a symbol of peace, in order to demand freedom for the their relatives who are jailed dissidents, as well as on behalf of all other political prisoners.

The other tactic is to organize public acts of repudiation against them in order to cause them distress, while also intimidating and frightening them. Usually small groups of people are brought to the dissidents’ residence who then shout insults at them, throw stones at their houses and threaten them.

Why have these brave women kept on fighting their battle despite the pressure they find themselves under?

Their answer is simple and clear: they want change and freedom for their loved ones and the people of Cuba.

The NGO People in Need condemns the repression that the Cuban authorities have directed towards Keila and Maria Teresa, as well as towards all the Ladies in White, and ask for them to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Cuba is a signatory.

The regular weekly march was harshly repressed in Havana, as well as in the provinces, following the announcement of celebrations in memory of the victims of “13th of March” Tugboat that was sunk in 1994. A total of 89 Ladies in White, among which the leader of the movement, Berta Soler, and 9 men who participated in the march were arrested.

The Ladies in White Movement was initiated in the aftermath of the Black Spring in 2003, when the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists, and independent librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison. The initiator was Laura Pollan, the wife of one of the jailed activists, Hector Maseda. Each member of the march carries a picture of her jailed relative and the number of years to which he has been sentenced.