Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka El Sexto, was released over the weekend from the maximum security prison outside Havana, where he had been held for nearly two months.
The artist and activist had been held at El Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison used for hardened criminals as well as Cubans whose political views oppose the state. This was his third arrest since December 2014, first in relation to an artwork likening Raul and Fidel Castro to pigs, and again on the eve of a visit by former President Barack Obama to Cuba.
On November 26, 2016, El Sexto was violently taken from his home in Havana by police, who gave no reason for his arrest. He was scheduled to leave Cuba for Art Basel in Miami, where he had planned exhibitions and performances.
Cuban authorities did not give a reason for his release on Saturday, January 21, either; however, Pollock Fine Art London, a gallery that represents El Sexto, noted in a statement that it coincided with a recent communication sent to the Cuban government from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding their reviewing of a petition to declare the artist’s incarceration illegal according to international law.
More than 13,700 people signed an online petition on Change.org demanding El Sexto’s immediate release. “Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba,” read the petition’s explanatory text.
Amnesty International also called for urgent action, calling the artist a “prisoner of conscience.”
After his release, El Sexto thanked the petitioners and Amnesty International, as well as other human rights organizations, activists, artists, and writers who supported him. He also expressed his gratitude to the international attorneys who fought for him: Centa B. Rek Chatjtur of the Human Rights Foundation, and Kimberley Motley, who was arrested in Havana on December 16 for attempting to publicize the artist’s unwarranted arrest and incarceration. He is currently at home with his family in Havana.
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