Czechs demonstrate in support of Cuban political prisoners

Stop Repression in Cuba campaign

Almost a year ago seventy-five Cuban journalists and human rights activists were imprisoned by the Castro regime. As an act of solidarity, the Czech People in Need Foundation launched a campaign on Monday in which a symbolic cell was built on Prague's Wencelslas Square - the site of many important events in Czech history, such as the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Under the Stop Repression in Cuba campaign, a volunteer represents each of the 75 imprisoned. An array of dynamic personalities from politicians to artists, some former prisoners under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia will one after the other spend an hour in the cell.

Stop Repression in Cuba campaign
The Stop Repression in Cuba campaign is in its own right a brief look at the history of Czech freedom. In paying respect to the imprisoned leaders of the opposition movement in Cuba, Mayor Pavel Bem felt the expression is part of a shared human dignity. I asked him how seeing prisoners locked up on Wencelslas Square resonated in his memory.

"I think the human memory is amazingly short. Especially for young people who did not experience what it was like twenty years ago, it is difficult for them to understand the deepness of the expression of solidarity that is being performed here today. Such a happening is quite an effective way of showing people that we are living in a world where human rights and freedom have to be respected, and in circumstances like in Cuba where they are not, there is something wrong."

Stop Repression in Cuba campaign,  Simon Panek
The People in Need Foundation has long been involved in supporting the Cuban dissident movement and independent journalists in the country, both on its own and in cooperation with several international organizations. Simon Panek is a member of the organization. Dressed in a black and white stripped prisoner uniform he was first to enter the cell and expressed how pleased he was to be in a "free" Prague where he could participate in this campaign.

"My father spent eleven years in prison during the Stalin era between the ages 19 and 30 and I was always thinking about his lost youth. I feel it is basically my moral duty to join such an effort and to send a signal that it is absurd that in the 21st century people are sentenced to twenty years because of their political beliefs or freedoms."

How will people in know about this event because information exchange is so highly censored?

"It is but still there is Radio Martis, Radio Liberty plus the information exchange between people talking to each other."

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares later entered the cell. In Czechoslovakia during the communist era word of demonstrations abroad did get around.

Stop Repression in Cuba Campaign
"When we heard that 20 100 people gathered together in San Francisco or Brussels simply to say that we know that there is no democracy in Czechoslovakia, we know that people are struggling for it is something that gave us renewed strength and I believe as this today may somehow get to Cubans who are thinking about their future and help them believe that Castro is not there forever."

Do you think that some of the Czech people today might be becoming complacent?

"I must confess that that is another reason why I am here. My daughter is twenty years old and in spite of the fact that her father is a historian and a politician at the same time I sometimes have the feeling that she is forgetting. And it is important for us to remind the young generation that only 15 years ago the situation the Czech Republic was similar to the one we are trying to momentarily rebuild on Wenceslas Square."

The Stop Repression in Cuba Campaign will run till Thursday of this week.