Group of women gesturing with signs (© Javier Galeano/AP Images)
Ladies in White, the Cuban dissident group, protesting in 2011 to demand release of political prisoners. (© Javier Galeano/AP Images)

[Editor’s Note: Tomás Núñez Magdariaga, one of Cuba’s political prisoners featured in this story, was released from custody on October 15, 2018.]

Martha Sánchez wore white when she went to her polling place in Artemisa, Cuba, in March 2018 to protest the legitimacy of Cuba’s election held that day.

Although Sánchez’s protest was peaceful — she shouted slogans — she was forcefully taken into custody and remains in detention. In August, the Municipal Tribunal of Artemisa concluded her trial and announced it would seek a five-year prison term.

Sánchez is one of Cuba’s estimated 130 political prisoners and an example of how the Cuban government manipulates its criminal-justice system to silence and punish peaceful activists.

Sánchez wore white in solidarity with the Ladies in White to represent innocence. In 2003, the Ladies in White began protesting Cuba’s imprisonment of dozens of dissidents, lawyers, and journalists — many the husbands of the protesters.

In the years since, the Ladies in White have demonstrated every Sunday after attending Mass to protest the arbitrary and unlawful detention of peaceful activists. Berta Soler, who leads the Ladies in White, is regularly arrested and held for more than 24 hours.

Between 2010 and 2017, there were an average of 540 arbitrary, short-term arrests in Cuba each month, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. In September 2018 alone, there were 224 such arrests for political reasons.

José Rolando Casares Soto, who belongs to the Cuban Youth Dialogue Table, which promotes reforms to Cuba’s electoral system, was arrested in the early hours of July 14, 2016, by Cuban state security agents after he inquired into the arrest of another member of his organization. Held for days without charges, Casares Soto was eventually sentenced to five years for “assault,” “contempt” and “sexual insult.” His wife, Yamilka Abascal Sánchez, was later sentenced to two years of house arrest with police supervision.

The U.S. State Department recently expressed grave concern about the physical health of Cuban democratic activist Tomás Núñez Magdariaga, a member of Cuba’s largest opposition party. The party says he was arrested by authorities on false charges and convicted in a sham trial. Núñez has been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest.

“Mr. Núñez’s condition is cruel confirmation of these wrongful practices, and serves as a dark reminder that there is no due process for those who criticize the Cuban government,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.