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In Cuba, trial against high profile anti-government activists concludes

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo await sentencing, as international groups call for their release.
Police officers guard the entrance to the Marianao Municipal Court in Havana, on May 31, 2022, where the trials of Cuban dissident artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo are being held.
Police officers Tuesday guard the entrance to Marianao Municipal Court in Havana, where the trials of Cuban dissident artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo are being held.Yamil Lage / AFP - Getty Images

The trial of artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo, two of the most prominent anti-government activists in Cuba, concluded Tuesday.

A verdict is expected in the next two weeks, though it can take longer, according to Cuban activist Anamely Ramos.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been calling for their release.

Trials in Cuba are closed to the media and only relatives are allowed in the courtroom.

Otero Alcántara is facing seven years in prison on charges of defaming the Cuban flag, contempt and public disorder. Castillo is charged with contempt, resisting arrest, assault and defamation of national institutions. He faces up to 10 years in jail, according to Ramos.

Cuban activists have insisted both men are innocent of the charges.

Otero Alcántara was detained on July 11, 2021, the day the island exploded in protests against the Communist government. Castillo was detained in May 2021.

The joint trial has garnered worldwide attention. Castillo was one of the composers of the Latin Grammy award-winning song “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), which became an anthem during the July protests. Images of Otero Alcántara appear in the music video as well. Time magazine named Otero Alcántara one of the 100 most influential people of 2021.

Both men were involved with the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists and activists who are critical of the government’s censorship. It was named after the Havana neighborhood where Otero Alcántara resides.

Many of the members of the San Isidro Movement are no longer in Cuba; Ramos is one of them. The activist, who is in contact with relatives who attended the trial, told NBC News from New York that Castillo's last statement to the judge during the trial was, "Espero que la sentencia de usted, señora jueza, sea la de su conciencia," which translates to: "I hope your sentence, madame judge, is one dictated by your conscience."

Castillo had to find a new attorney just three days before the trial began, Ramos said, because the lawyer who had worked on his defense for months was removed. Ramos called the trial a "circus."

Ramos is stranded in the U.S. after she was prevented in February from boarding a flight to Havana from Miami; she said she has been barred from re-entering her country.

Cuba’s government has not commented publicly on the cases of Otero Alcántara and Castillo. State-run media has previously said both men receive funds from the U.S. government and has called the San Isidro Movement a “farce.”

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