Freedom of Expression

R196/16 Press Release

The Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Concern over the detention in Cuba of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto"


December 23, 2016

Washington D.C - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the detention on November 26, 2016 in Cuba of the artist Danilo Maldonado, known by his artistic name "El Sexto", after having painted a graffiti alluding to the death of ex-President Fidel Castro.

According to the information received, on November 26, 2016, the artist known as "El Sexto" was detained by officials at his home in Havana, charged with damage to State property. After hearing of the death of ex-President Fidel Castro, Maldonado painted graffiti on the wall of the Hotel Habana Libre and on the façade of two other state buildings, which read "Se fue" (He’s gone). According to the report, the artist continues under detention and is currently in the maximum security prison "Combinado del Este", in Havana, even though the infraction of which he is accused would be punished with a fine rather than imprisonment.

This is not the first time that Maldonado has been arrested. On December 25, 2014, he was jailed for 10 months after having been arrested for contempt in connection with a performance that he was about to undertake in a park in Havana, which consisted of releasing two pigs painted green with two names written in red on their bodies: Fidel and Raúl, in an allusion to the book Animal Farm ("Rebelión en la granja"), by George Orwell. No date was set for the start of his trial, and despite his having filed a request for an explanation of the reason for his detention, the motion was denied. Finally, in October of 2015, he was freed without a trial having been held nor any formal charges having been brought against him.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur is concerned about the selective and deliberate persecution that exists in Cuba against journalists, activists, artists, human rights defenders and opponents of the government for their critical expressions and positions about the policy and institutions of the country. In this particular case, they are concerned over the imposition of a measure involving deprivation of liberty stemming from a graffiti, which is nothing more than a manifestation of his opinion about an event of evident public relevance such as the death and funeral of the ex-Cuban president, who remained in power for nearly 50 years. It involves a critical judgment that is part of freedom of thought and people have the right to express pursuant to the right to freedom of opinion guaranteed in article IV of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. In this case, the damages to property that may have been caused are of a small amount and could possibly be repaired through other means less damaging to the right to freedom of expression.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur has on diverse occasions stated that the arrest, imprisonment and criminal trial of a person for the simple fact of having expressed opinions that bother the authorities is expressly prohibited by the Inter-American Standards on Freedom of Expression. Additionally, the eleventh Principle of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states that "[p]ublic officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as "desacato laws," restrict freedom of expression and the right to information."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.