For Immediate Release: December 10, 2012
Washington, D.C— Human Rights First today condemned the Dec. 9 attack on 94 members of the peaceful pro-democracy group Damas de Blanco – The Ladies in White. On the eve of Human Rights Day, the women were reportedly beaten and detained as they gathered to attend church and participate in their weekly march to highlight Cuba’s ongoing human rights abuses.
“These women should be freed and permitted to hold their weekly march,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Yesterday’s attacks mark the most recent movement to silence the Ladies in White. For years, these brave women have been targeted and physically assaulted by police as they go to and from Mass. We urge that the arrests and violence directed against peaceful human rights activists be halted immediately.”
The Ladies in White trace their roots back to 2003, when the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists and librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison. Many of them were organizers for the Varela Project, a grassroots initiative for constitutional reform. The repressive move was roundly condemned by foreign governments, the United Nations and human rights organizations.
Following the arrests, the wives and relatives of those imprisoned in the crackdown formed the Ladies in White. Every Sunday, dressed in white, the women meet at mass in the Santa Rita church and then walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana in silent protest of the unjust incarceration of their relatives. The last of the 75 dissidents was finally released in May 2011. The Ladies in White and other supporters—Ladies in Support—continue to peacefully protest for the release of others who they believe have been imprisoned due to their dissident activities. The groups recently spread their peaceful protests to eastern provinces.
Human Rights First honored the Ladies in White during its 2006 human rights awards dinner for their persistent and peaceful demands that the Cuban government respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Since the organization was founded, the Cuban government has tried to force them to abandon their protests, but the Ladies in White have remained unrelenting in seeking the unconditional release of all political prisoners.