Rights groups denounce Cuba harassment of activist group

HAVANA (Reuters) - A number of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have denounced Cuban state harassment of a group of activists in Havana who say they have gone on hunger strike in protest against curbs on free speech.

The San Isidro Movement, a group of artists, journalists and academics, has had numerous run-ins with Communist authorities in recent years as it tests and protests limits on freedom of speech in the one party state.

Members and allies say they have been detained multiple times for peacefully protesting the arrest last week of rapper Denis Solis and his sentencing to eight months in prison for what authorities said was "contempt."

Solis accused a police officer of trespassing in his home, calling the officer a "coward" and a "rat" in a verbal confrontation he livestreamed on Facebook, and insulted Cuban President Raoul Castro.

Six activists say they started a hunger strike last week after authorities besieged their headquarters. Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims.

At least two police cars and more than a dozen officials were blocking access to the Movimiento San Isidro office. A man who identified himself as Jorge Gomez and said he worked for public health authorities said access was restricted due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The Cuban government did not reply to a request for comment.

"The ongoing harassment and intimidation of members of the San Isidro movement ... shows Cuba’s ongoing repression of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression," Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

She said “contempt” was a crime inconsistent with international human rights law.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch Americas, said on Twitter he was "very concerned."

The Cuban government dismisses opposition activists as a tiny minority who receive money from the United States to destabilize the government.

Activists say expanded internet access, with improved access to independent information sources - in tandem with greater U.S. attempts to force democratic reform - has resulted in authorities cracking down harder on them.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Dan Grebler)