Cuban authorities arrest LGBT activists after banning march over grounds foreign powers could use it to criticize human rights

Cuban authorities arrested LGBT activists on Saturday after holding a pride parade in Havana, the country’s capital.

The parade, officially dubbed Cuban Conga against Homophobia and Transphobia, has been occurring for over a decade and celebrates LGBT people in the repressive country.

But this year’s celebration wasn’t sanctioned by the communist authorities on the grounds that it could be used by foreign powers as an example to criticize Cuba’s human rights record.

Cuban police detain a gay rights activist taking part in an unauthorized march in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 11, 2019. The march was organized largely using Cuba's new mobile internet, with gay-rights activists and groups of friends calling for a march over Facebook and WhatsApp after the government-run gay rights organization canceled a Saturday march.

Cuban police detain a gay rights activist taking part in an unauthorized march in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 11, 2019. The march was organized largely using Cuba's new mobile internet, with gay-rights activists and groups of friends calling for a march over Facebook and WhatsApp after the government-run gay rights organization canceled a Saturday march. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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“Aggression against Cuba and Venezuela has encouraged groups that, although they already existed, in recent times to try harder to distort the reality of Cuba, and they intend to use our Conga to discredit, divide and replace the true meaning of this activity,” the National Centre for Sex Education, a state-run organization, said in a statement, Local 10 reported.

Some Cuban citizens concerned about the cancelation of the event were also reportedly told that the Cuban government feared that “organized groups could attack members of the LGBT community forcing police to act and create negative images around the world.”

But despite the ban on this year’s march, community leaders, totaling around 100 people, proceeded with the parade after organizing its activities on social media.

“Aggression against Cuba and Venezuela has encouraged groups that, although they already existed, in recent times to try harder to distort the reality of Cuba, and they intend to use our Conga to discredit, divide and replace the true meaning of this activity.”

— National Centre for Sex Education

“It was a complete success because we got so many people together despite all the expectations of government interference,” said Raul Soublett, a 26-year-old gay rights activist. “It’s historic.”

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Cuban police detain a gay rights activist taking part in an unauthorized march in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 11, 2019. The march was organized largely using Cuba's new mobile internet, with gay-rights activists and groups of friends calling for a march over Facebook and WhatsApp after the government-run gay rights organization canceled a Saturday march.

Cuban police detain a gay rights activist taking part in an unauthorized march in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 11, 2019. The march was organized largely using Cuba's new mobile internet, with gay-rights activists and groups of friends calling for a march over Facebook and WhatsApp after the government-run gay rights organization canceled a Saturday march. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The demonstrators, who carried rainbow flags and shouted pro-LGBT slogans, said they were harassed and subjected to violence by the police officers in plain clothes, the BBC reported. At least three activists were detained for their participation in the march.

Some activists also claimed that the authorities had tried to prevent them from leaving their homes even before the march, issuing veiled threats of repercussions.

“This is because we don’t want to lose our rights to public space,” said Lidia Romero, 49. “We’re not here in opposition to anybody,” Soublett seconded.

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Other events celebrating LGBT people, which were officially sanctioned by the government, will reportedly be going ahead as planned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.