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Cuba: Cuban mothers denounce government for holding minors in prison for protesting

"They took away my son — and my fear," a mother said. While prosecutors are asking for up to 23 years in prison, the mothers say their children were detained and interrogated without the presence of adults.

Yudinela Castro has seen her son eight times in the past six months, but in a subdued voice says she would have preferred not to have seen him. “It would have been better not to have visited him in prison, because he came out full of scabies, with a bad smell and a hellish color. He had not been able to bathe for days,” the mother said in a phone call from Havana. Castro said her son, Rowland Castillo, 17, was arrested in the middle of the street and interrogated without the presence of his parents or a lawyer. He was transferred to an adult prison just days after the July 11 protests, when thousands of Cubans like him demanded “freedom” in cities across the island during the largest demonstration in six decades of communism.

Castillo, who turned 18 behind bars, awaits an undated trial. Cuban prosecutors are asking for 23 years in prison for the crime of sedition, one of the most common measures applied against protesters who “disturb the socialist order,” according to the Cuban Penal Code.

The Cuban government has detained at least 45 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 for their participation in last summer’s protests, according to the group Justicia 11J, made up of activists, independent journalists and lawyers who are documenting the government’s repressive measures after the demonstrations. According to Justicia 11J, 14 of those minors remain behind bars awaiting trial. Others have been released on bail or house arrest.

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