(Recasts with stakeout)
By Sarah Marsh
HAVANA, Nov 27 (Reuters) - More than 150 people staked out Cuba's culture ministry on Friday to demand answers over the state's handling of a hunger strike by a group of artists and activists, in an unusually large display of public dissent on the Communist-run island.
Late on Thursday, authorities had broken up the hunger strike, intended to protest curbs on civil liberties, by evicting the participants and others from a house in the rundown San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana where they had been staying.
Authorities said there had been a violation of health protocols and they had to intervene to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. State-run media showed images of what appeared to be doctors backed up by police cars leading the dissidents out of the building.
The dissidents said the health protocols were a pretext to end a protest that cast a spotlight on rights abuses in the one-party state.
The crowd outside the culture ministry, which included prominent artists like Tania Bruguera, said they were there to show solidarity but also to make clear to the government their opposition to growing limits on freedom of expression.
"It was horrid," said actress Juliana Rabelo, 29, outside the ministry. She added that it was encouraging to see the "growing engagement."
The 14 artists, activists, journalists and academics briefly detained on Thursday - of which five had been on the hunger strike - said their phones were seized and reset so they did not have images of the move against them.
Some Cubans reported that social media platforms in the country, where the state has a monopoly on telecommunications, were briefly shut down to prevent news of the raid from being shared online.
"They entered by force, breaking the door," said independent journalist Iliana Hernandez in a video livestreamed on Facebook. "Many military people dressed as if they were doctors, wearing gowns."
Reacting to the incident on Friday, the Dutch and Czech governments and Amnesty International, as well as other rights groups, voiced their concern about human rights in Cuba.
Opposition groups have struggled to gain traction on the island where the government - which has a monopoly on mass media and usually quickly quashes public shows of dissent - brands dissidents as mercenaries out to destabilize it.
But growing access to the internet has enabled groups like the San Isidro Movement to reach a wider audience.
The movement, founded in 2018 to oppose a decree limiting freedom of speech, often spreads its message through irreverent artistic performances. It has had numerous run-ins with authorities.
After group members protested against an eight-month jail sentence for rapper Denis Solis on charges of contempt, security forces besieged the San Isidro headquarters earlier this month, prompting some members and allies to go on the hunger strike. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; editing by Tom Brown and Rosalba O'Brien)