Cuban Biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola Released from Prison on Parole for Medical Reasons
July 12, 2018
On July 3, 2018, Cuban biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was freed from prison after serving two months of a one-year sentence for “contempt”, based on allegedly disrespectful comments that he made about local authorities. Dr. Ruiz Urquiola’s release followed a two-week hunger strike, which he carried out to protest his conviction and prison sentence.
Along with his work as a researcher on biodiversity in Cuba, Dr. Ruiz Urquiola is a longtime environmental activist who has publicly denounced violations of environmental regulations, including near his farm in the Viñales National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. His incarceration is widely believed to be related to his environmental protection efforts. Previously, such efforts by Dr. Ruiz Urquiola have been followed by harassment, including dismissal from his research position at the University of Havana and attacks on animals and crops at his farm, where he runs an environmental project to conserve species in the National Park. Dr. Ruiz Urquiola’s recent imprisonment put him at risk of losing his rights to use the land around his home for his environmental project, as such rights can be revoked if an individual is considered to be absent from the land.
Dr. Ruiz Urquiola’s trial was notable for fair trial violations, and several groups within Cuba and outside the country called for his release on the grounds that his conviction and sentence criminalized the right to freedom of expression. According to a document given to Dr. Ruiz Urquiola’s family by local authorities, Dr. Ruiz Urquiola’s release was granted for mental health-related reasons.