Caution tape blocks the street at the entrance of the National Capitol building in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Cuban…
Caution tape blocks the street at the entrance of the National Capitol building in Havana, Cuba, July 13, 2021.

MADRID - Spain called on Cuba Tuesday to release a journalist who was detained in Havana while covering the biggest demonstrations in the communist country for decades. 

Camila Acosta, 28, who works for the right-leaning Spanish daily ABC, was held by police Monday night.  

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares implored Cuba to immediately release Acosta and respect the rights of demonstrators. 

“Spain defends the right to demonstrate freely and peacefully and asks the Cuban authorities to respect it,” Albares tweeted. “We demand the immediate release of Camila Acosta.”  

Cuba’s government cracked down on activists Monday night after mass protests drew thousands over the weekend. 

Acosta, who describes herself on Twitter as an independent Cuban journalist, has reported for ABC for six months. She was uploading photos of the unrest to social media when she was detained. 

Her arrest prompted international condemnation among politicians and media organizations, as her newspaper said she played no part in the protests and was only documenting them.

Demonstrators clash during protests against and in support of the government, in Havana, July 12, 2021.

ABC learned that Acosta had been arrested around 8 p.m. Spanish time (2 p.m. in Cuba) on Monday. “She had gone to report on, not to join in, the demonstrations,” Alexis Rodriguez, ABC’s foreign editor, told VOA on Tuesday. “We were told that she has been arrested for crimes against state security.” 

Cuban authorities later changed the charges to contempt and public disorder, which can carry a jail sentence of three to six years. Rodriguez said the newspaper was “highly concerned” that one of its journalists had been detained and called on the Spanish government to do all it can to help with Acosta’s release. 

Acosta’s father, Orlando Acosta, lives in Florida and was visiting his daughter in Cuba when she was arrested. 

“We went out to do a PCR (COVID-19) test so that I could return to the U.S. this Friday when the unrest happened,” Orlando Acosta told ABC Tuesday night.  

“I have been told by the Cuban authorities that they are going to charge her with contempt and public disorder,” he added. “They are going to leave her at the police station for another 72 hours before she comes before a prosecutor. I have not been able to see my daughter. They say it is because of the risk of COVID-19.”

Orlando Acosta said about 15 police officers raided his daughter’s rented flat with dogs and seized her work computers. He was told she must vacate the premises immediately. 

Camila Acosta previously had been forced to leave other rented accommodations because she has criticized the Cuban government when she was abroad, her father said. 

Orlando Acosta said he was told by the Cuban government that his daughter should leave the island forever. 

“But that would stop her from doing her job as a journalist, which she is content with, and I am not going to interfere in that,” he told ABC. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, a socialist who in 2018 paid the first official visit by a Spanish leader to Cuba in three decades, said the country was “not a democracy.” 

“Without interference, the country has to find its own way,” Sanchez told broadcaster Telecinco on Tuesday. 

The Spanish prime minister demanded Acosta’s release, adding that Cubans should be able to protest freely and enjoy the “same rights and freedoms as in Spain.” 

Media associations in Spain called for her swift release. 

In a statement, the Spanish Federation of Journalists Associations demanded the removal of “all charges against Acosta” and called on the Spanish government to “do everything necessary so she is released without charges.” 

The organization condemned all arrests and attacks on journalists in Cuba over the weekend, including against Ramón Espinosa, a photographer for The Associated Press. 

About 100 protesters, activists and independent journalists have been detained nationwide since Sunday, according to exiled rights group, Cubalex. 

VOA contacted the Cuban Embassy in Madrid for comment Tuesday but did not receive a reply.  

Cuban authorities arrested a well-known Cuban YouTuber, Dina Stars, on Tuesday during a live interview with the Spanish television channel Cuatro’s program “Todo Es Mentira” (Everything Is Lies). Stars told the Spanish interviewer: “The state authorities are here,” then the interview was stopped.