Boulder, Colorado, USA, October 2, 2018. Cuban journalists and human rights defenders participated in the public hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), held on October 1 during its 169th Period of Sessions. The hearings provided an opportunity for victims of violence, repression, criminalization and harassment, to describe to the IACHR Commissioners the repressive tactics utilized by the Cuban State to silence their voices.
According to information gathered by Cuban civil society, approximately 1,633 cases of arbitrary detention have been registered during the current calendar year, up until August, of which 1,129 cases reported excess use of force against women and 504 cases against men. The government continues to use repressive tactics such as beatings, public denigration, travel restrictions and intimidation.
During the hearing, the activists revealed that the Cuban authorities use the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to sanction the opposition without needing to provide sufficient justification, meaning that, in the majority of cases, detentions are carried out without judicial orders backed by a legal argument. Furthermore, many of the crimes described in the Criminal Code are loosely defined, which allows for open interpretation of its contents to be used to discourage freedom of expression and/or opinion which goes against that of the government.
Although Cuban activists have addressed allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention and intimation of civil society to many international human rights protection mechanisms on previous occasions, the situation in Cuba continues to be precarious and has worsened. Such is the case of the Ladies in White – a group of women who are heavily criminalized and attacked for their participation in public protests which demand the liberation of an estimated 140 political prisoners, throughout Cuba’s prisons.
Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, responded to the information by, first, applauding the courage of the activists, and then stated that the conditions that Cuban political prisoners find themselves in violate the basic human rights of any individual. Currently, five Ladies in White are detained in prison, and may others continue to be threatened to be jailed at any moment – according to Blanca Reyes, representative of the Ladies in White, and one of its founding members.
In addition, the director of independent media outlet Diario de Cuba Pablo Díaz denounced the Cuban government’s repression of the media, which, according to him, has increased in recent months due to the process of transition of power from Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel and the recent constitutional reforms, as well as from an increase in international attention to the country stemming from this summer’s Summit of the Americas, and the UN’s Universal Periodic Review – the resulting increase in reports and denunciations by independent media sources destabilize the “national order” which the government seeks to maintain. In addition, the representative of the Cuban media outlet conveyed that new patterns of repression against journalists in the island seek to leave no “judicial footprint” as opposed to previous periods of time. This results in illegal judicial processes which silence the opposition, but that do not jeopardize Cuba’s international reputation. “It is a repression that often violates even the basic norms of the government, which are already abusive in their nature,” signaled Díaz. The video below shows journalists showing different examples of violations committed by the authorities against those who practice journalism not aligned with the views of the national government.
In her intervention, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena lamented the absence of the Cuban State at the hearing as it would have represented an important step in recognizing the rights of journalists and human rights defenders by the government. To this date and in other spaces of dialogue, the Cuban government and its representatives view those individuals who oppose the views of the national government as “mercenaries” of foreign entities that seek to break the socio-political dynamics of the State; as such their actions/declarations, according to the country’s Criminal Code, are against the law. Similarly, the Rapporteur for Cuba, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, inquired about the possibility of new spaces of dialogue to form ahead of the State’s electoral and constitutional reforms, to which Mr. Díaz responded, “We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, because what is happening now is a transfer of power between fingers (of the same hand). As such, our views are no more than a suit fitted to justify their interests.” Finally, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, expressed his admiration for the work carried out by independent media outlets and journalists in Cuba, despite the State’s blocking of independent media, and he expressed his interest in creating a detailed report on the situation freedom of expression on the island, despite the conditions of the government not allowing this to happen to this date.
Among the recommendations proposed by the group of Cuban civil society activists at the hearing, they recommended that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urge the Cuban State to guarantee the freedom of movement to those who try to leave the island, as well as requesting that the government allow its citizens free access to the internet and to remove the ban on independent media. Furthermore, the Rapporteurship on Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty was asked to issue a public communication on the political prisoners in Cuba, and the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women was asked to do the same with the situation of the Ladies in White. Finally, the petitioners urged the Commission to adopt the term “criminalization of journalistic work” to denominate acts of repressions by which the State impedes the work of distributing information, and that the Commission develop strategies of advocacy in collaboration with Cuban activists, that promote Cuba’s participation in the Inter-American System.
You can see a video of the complete public hearing here (in Spanish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNkdElQwPNM&feature=youtu.be