Cuba releases artist 'El Sexto,' considered prisoner of conscience

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado holds his daughter during a photo exhibition in Havana, in this picture taken April 29, 2014.
Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado holds his daughter during a photo exhibition in Havana, in this picture taken April 29, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA (REUTERS) - Cuba released a graffiti artist known as "El Sexto" on Tuesday, ten months after he was jailed for "disrespect of the leaders of the revolution" over a satire of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Amnesty International in late September had declared Danilo Maldonado, 32, the country's only prisoner of conscience, but added it was evaluating other cases.

Guards at the jail where he was held told Maldonado to collect his belongings early on Tuesday, he said, adding that after signing a few papers, he was released 30 minutes later. "Now I am going to try to recover my energy and be with my daughter," Maldonado told Reuters by telephone.

"I want to travel to the United States in the future and thank all the people who supported the cause to have me freed."

Maldonado painted "Fidel," and "Raul" on the backs of a pair of pigs in apparent reference to former leader Fidel Castro and his brother and current president, Raul Castro, Amnesty said.

The Cuban government maintains it does not have any political prisoners, and characterizes Cuba's small but vocal dissident community as mercenaries paid by US interests to destabilise the government.

Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama surprised the world last Dec 17 by announcing the two former Cold War foes would seek to restore diplomatic ties, which they did in July.

But Maldonado was detained eight days after the historic accord when police discovered the animals in the trunk of his taxi before he intended to display them in a Christmas Day art show, Amnesty said.

In conjunction with the détente reached with the United States, Cuba by mid-January released 53 prisoners that Washington had considered political.

The dissident Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates there are about 60 political prisoners in Cuba, including some two dozen held for peaceful acts of political protest.