Cuban authorities citing COVID-19 break up Havana hunger strike
By Sarah Marsh HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban authorities broke up a hunger strike against curbs on civil liberties, citing the threat of COVID-19 as they evicted the protesters from a house in the capital. Authorities, who moved against the group late on Thursday, said they had to intervene to prevent the spread of coronavirus due to a violation of hygiene protocols in the house in the rundown San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana
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By Sarah Marsh
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban authorities broke up a hunger strike against curbs on civil liberties, citing the threat of COVID-19 as they evicted the protesters from a house in the capital.
Authorities, who moved against the group late on Thursday, said they had to intervene to prevent the spread of coronavirus due to a violation of hygiene protocols in the house in the rundown San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana.
State-run media showed images of what appeared to be doctors backed up by police cars leading dissidents out of the building.
But the dissidents said health protocols were nothing but a pretext to end a protest that cast a spotlight on rights abuses in the one-party state, in particular growing limits on freedom of expression and harassment by security forces.
The 14 artists, activists, journalists and academics briefly detained - of which five had been on the hunger strike - said their phones were seized and reset so they did not have images of Thursday's move against them.
Dissidents said some social media platforms in the country, where the state has a monopoly on telecommunications, were briefly shut down to prevent news of the raid from being shared online.
Other Cubans also reported social media platforms were down at the time of the raid.
More than 50 artists and activists gathered outside the culture ministry in Havana on Friday asking to speak with officials about the government's handling of the protest and curbs on freedom of expression.
"They entered by force, breaking the door," said independent journalist Iliana Hernandez in a video livestreamed on Facebook. "Many military people dressed as if they were doctors, wearing gowns."
Reacting to the incident on Friday, the Dutch and Czech governments and Amnesty International, as well as other rights groups, joined in voicing their concern about human rights in Cuba.
Opposition groups have struggled to gain traction on the Communist-run island where the government - which has a monopoly on mass media and quickly quashes public shows of dissent - brands dissidents as mercenaries out to destabilize it.
But growing access to the internet has enabled groups like the San Isidro Movement to reach a wider audience.
The movement founded in 2018 to oppose a decree limiting freedom of speech, often spreads its message through irreverent artistic performances. It has had numerous run-ins with authorities.
After group members protested against an eight-month jail sentence for rapper Denis Solis on charges of contempt, security forces besieged the San Isidro headquarters earlier this month, prompting some members and allies to go on the hunger strike.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Tom Brown)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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