Press Release

Cuban poet who spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for defending his beliefs receives Becket’s Canterbury Medal

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Armando Valladares, whose New York Times bestselling memoir of 22 years in Castro’s gulags has been translated to 18 languages, is the 2016 recipient of Becket’s highest honor, the Canterbury Medal (see video.)

Valladares, who has been hailed as “heroic” by Nobel laureate Holocaust survivor and fellow Medalist Elie Wiesel, was arrested and imprisoned at 23 years of age for refusing to put up a placard that said: “I am with Fidel.” He spent 22 years in prison for that simple act of dissent. Eight of those years he spent naked in solitary confinement in a windowless and mosquito-infested cell, where guards regularly doused him with buckets of human excrement.

He was tortured with relentless beatings and endured several hunger strikes, one of which left him wheelchair bound for years. Despite all this, he began to write poetry, which his wife smuggled out and published to critical acclaim. She led an international campaign for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 1982 thanks to the intercession of French President Francois Mitterrand.

Valladares, who devoted his life to the defense of human rights, going on to serve as a human rights ambassador to the United Nations, recently wrote: “America, perhaps more than any other nation in the world, understands and defends the sanctity of the human mind and the beliefs that flourish and guide it. We are still a beacon to the men and women that languish in their jail cells for holding steadfast to their beliefs and for refusing to violate them despite intimidation in places where tyrannical thugs or ISIS zealots reign with terror.”

The Canterbury Medal Dinner boasts the most distinguished religious leaders and advocates of religious liberty throughout the world. This year’s black-tie gala will be held on Thursday, May 12, 2016 at the Pierre Hotel on 2 East 61st Street at 5th Avenue, New York City hosted by this year’s gala chairs Anthony and Christie DeNicola.

Past Canterbury Medalists include Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,  Prison Fellowship founder – the late Charles Colson, LDS Elder Dallin H. Oaks, financier Foster Friess, Barbara Green of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Archbishop Charles Chaput and the former Ambassador to the Vatican, James R. Nicholson, among others. Medalists all share a common devotion to liberty and freedom of conscience for people of all faiths.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. 


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in  Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings in  Holt v. Hobbs  and  Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”