Cuba: Religious Leader Denied Permission To Receive Medical Treatment Outside Of Prison

Free Yorubas

A leader of the Association of Free Yorubas, an independent religious group in Cuba, has been denied permission to receive medical treatment outside the maximum-security prison where he is being held.

Family members of Loreto Hernández García have expressed grave concern for his well-being, noting that he has diabetes and hypertension and that they have been informed by medical specialists that he is experiencing symptoms that may be indicative of pancreatic cancer.

The request for temporary medical leave was submitted by a relative of Mr Hernández García, an Afro-Cuban Yoruba priest, on 26 October 2022 along with supporting documentation from medical specialists. On 19 March 2023 Major Arturo Montenegro Sotelo informed Mr Hernández García that the request had been refused by the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees Cuba’s internal security and intelligence.

Mr Hernández García was detained on 16 July 2021 as part of a government crackdown on protestors who participated in spontaneous and peaceful demonstrations across the island on 11 July 2021. He is serving a seven-year sentence in Guamajal Prison in the province of Villa Clara on charges of disrespect and public disorder. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom considers Mr Hernández García to have been ‘imprisoned for his religious identity, religious activity, and religious leadership role.’

On 29 May 2022 Mr Hernández García was transferred to a nearby hospital after experiencing a medical emergency. He received medical treatment there until being forced to return to prison one week later after State Security ordered that he be expelled from the hospital.

His wife and two other members of the Association of Free Yorubas, an Afro-Cuban religious group, are also in prison in connection with their participation in the 11 July protests. Donaida Perez Paseiro, Mr Hernández García’s wife, is serving an eight-year sentence. The group has a long history of being targeted by the government, in part because of their decision to remain independent of Afro-Cuban religious groups with links to the government.

While in prison, Mr Hernández García has been subjected to humiliating treatment by prison officials and repeatedly ridiculed because of his religion. He has also reported being beaten.

Mr Hernández García’s brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, also known as “Antunez”, a former political prisoner now in exile, has told CSW that his brother is unable to receive adequate medical attention inside the prison and he and other members of their family ‘continue to denounce to the world the vicious and extreme cruelty of the dictatorship against [Loreto Hernández García] and hold [the government] responsible for any consequences that their behavior may bring about.’

CSW’s Joint Head of Advocacy and Team Leader for the Americas Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘We remain deeply concerned for Loreto Hernández García’s health and demand that the Cuban government ensures that he has access to the urgent medical attention that he requires in line with the Nelson Mandela Rules. Additionally, we urge the authorities to release him and other members of the Association of Free Yorubas immediately. They have been targeted because of their involvement in an unregistered religious group in addition to their peaceful participation in the 11 July protests. Blocking Mr Hernández García from receiving the medical treatment he requires is inhumane and the Cuban government will bear full responsibility should anything untoward happen to him.’

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