The repression of the historic 11J protests in Cuba

Washington DC, July 6, 2022. – A few days after the one year anniversary of the peaceful marches of July 11, 2021 in Cuba, the legal team of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), answered four questions that help to know and understand what happened on the Island at […]

Washington DC, July 6, 2022. – A few days after the one year anniversary of the peaceful marches of July 11, 2021 in Cuba, the legal team of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), answered four questions that help to know and understand what happened on the Island at that time.

What happened in Cuba in July 2021?

On July 11, 2021, and the following days (hereinafter, “11J”), one of the largest protests in the recent history of the country was experienced in Cuba. On that occasion, thousands of people took to the streets of more than 50 cities to peacefully express their concern over the worsening health and economic crises, and denounce the policies imposed by the government to reduce civic space. Civil society organizations registered more than 124 peaceful demonstrations throughout the Cuban territory, which included the 15 provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud [1]. A high number of protestors reported serious human rights violations due to the excessive use of police force, resulting in one death, 1,745 repressive actions, at least 1,103 arbitrary arrests, several testimonies of sexual assaults by the police force, 402 assaults, 63 harassments, 55 citations and internet outages throughout the country [2].

Why did people go out to march?

The demonstrations began in the towns of San Antonio de los Baños, in the province of Artemisa (near Havana); and Palma Soriano, in Santiago; however, they quickly spread throughout the country. The protests that began on July 11, 2021 in Cuba represented the response of Cuban society to a social situation that worsened day after day. This is due to the inability of the Cuban State to effectively guarantee access to economic, social, and cultural rights and respect the exercise of civil and political rights of its citizens.

On the one hand, the country faced (and still faces) a deep economic crisis characterized by scarcity and shortages of food, medicines, and basic necessities. Added to this was the consequences of the government’s response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which had a very negative impact on Cuba, aggravating the health systems and the precarious social situation prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Finally, the increasing repression in response to the crises became unsustainable for thousands of people [3].

How did the Cuban authorities respond to the peaceful demonstrations of 11J?

The government responded to the demonstrations with brutal repression that included the disproportionate use of force, arbitrary detentions and short-term forced disappearances, threats, harassment, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment, both by state agents and pro-government parapolice forces. In the weeks following the protest, hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and other violations of the guarantees of due process were recorded, as well as the implementation of a reinforced surveillance strategy in the streets throughout the country and in the residences of activists, who were prevented from leaving their homes.

On July 12, 2021, the president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, published a speech in which he incited the civilian population to take to the streets to “act”, including through violence against the protesting people [4]. In that speech, he warned the demonstrators that they had to “step over [their] corpses if they want to confront the Revolution, and they [were] ready for anything and [would be] in the streets fighting [5]. ” The state response also included the dissemination of propaganda and stigmatization campaigns against the demonstrators, whom it described as “counterrevolutionaries”, “criminals”, “vandals”, “mercenaries” and “enemies of the State”.

Likewise, on July 11 and the following days, there were power cuts and blockages of the Internet service that sought to prevent the spread of the movement on social networks and the independent press. In response to the protests, on August 17, 2021, the government enacted Telecommunications Decree Law 35 and Resolution 105, which meant new regulations on telecommunications and cybersecurity. These measures sought to generate greater state control over social demonstrations, given that the Internet had become a fundamental space for the exercise of the right to protest in Cuba.

This type of response is not unknown on the Island, since it is faced daily by any person who dares to express their ideas and opinions that are independent and different from those of the government. The repression of those who think differently in Cuba is aggravated in contexts of crisis, as was the case in the 1990s. On that occasion, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations Organization on the situation of human rights in Cuba, warned in 1991 that “unfortunately for the cause of human rights, the Cuban authorities have decided to face this difficult economic situation with an increase in repressive control directed at the supposed opponents of the regime, most of whom aspire to non-violent changes of some circumstances they find intolerable [6].

According to data from the organizations Cubalex and Justicia 11J, as of June 30, 2022, 1,481 people (including 57 under 18 years of age) had been deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests [7]. Of these, 701 currently remain in detention [8]. Among the people detained there are a significant number of activists, artists, journalists, leaders of political opposition movements to the government, teachers, students, medical staff, professors and priests of various religious denominations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed a systematic pattern of violations of due process in the context of the deprivation of liberty of people who participated in the protests, such as: holding the detainee incommunicado, interrogations for intimidating purposes, lack of notification about the  legal causes of their detention, absence or obstruction to access a timely, technical and adequate legal defense, among others [9].

One year after the protests, what has happened in all this time?

About 10 days after the protests, the first prison sentences were recorded for some people for their participation in the 11J protests. These sentences were given in summary trials by way of direct attestation – an expedited procedure that goes directly from the police investigation phase to the oral trial, without prosecution or trial [10]-. Most of the accused persons did not have the timely assistance of a lawyer. A total of 47 people would have been sentenced by this procedure [11].

Justicia 11J and Cubalex have registered until June 30, 2022, 584 people convicted. According to available information, the crimes charged are repeated in most of the people prosecuted: “public disorder”, “attack”, “disrespect”, “incitement to commit a crime”, “spread of epidemics”, “sedition”, “illegal demonstrations”, “damage” and “defamation of institutions and organizations and of heroes and martyrs”. At least 168 people have been sentenced for the crime of sedition, and a large number of them come from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Havana. This has resulted in the sanctions having a disproportionate impact on populations of Afro-descendants, human rights defenders, artists, and independent journalists.

According to the information recorded by the organizations mentioned above, of the total number of people prosecuted, 24 were under 18 years of age at the time of their arrest and were sentenced in the first instance with sentences that extend up to 19 years of deprivation of liberty. [12]. Likewise, 71 women (more than twenty of them, mothers) and 9 older adults continue to be detained [13]. Finally, these organizations report that some thirty released protesters have emigrated or have been forced into exile [14].

The international community and human rights bodies have also expressed their concern about the sentences handed down in Cuba regarding the events of 11J. The Committee Against Torture (CAT) has urged the Cuban State to “investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the excessive use of force and mistreatment during the protests [15]. ” The Committee against Enforced Disappearances of the United Nations has called on the Cuban State to account for “the alleged disappearances due to 11J” [16]. For its part, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) included among its recommendations to reconsider “the severity and proportionality of the sentences for the children and adolescents who participated in the 11J protests” [17]. In the same way, regional organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its special rapporteurs closely follow with concern the continuous violations of human rights in Cuba as a result of 11J, making a special call to the State to “adopt all necessary measures to prevent those who legitimately claim their rights through social protest from being subjected to unfair or unfounded trials through state investigations.”[18]


[1]Registration carried out by the Inventory Project, “ Demonstrations in Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021”,


[2]Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH ), Protests of July, March 8, 2021 cuba-of-which-1-103-were-arbitrary-arrests/

[3]IACHR “ The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurships condemn state repression and the use of force in the framework of peaceful social protests in Cuba, calling for dialogue on citizen claims ”, July 15, 2021, available at https://www.és/2021/177.asp

[4]Granma, We defend the Revolution above all else , July 12, 2021.

[5]Granma, We defend the Revolution above all else , July 12, 2021.

[6]Special Representative of the Secretary General , Report on the situation of human rights in Cuba, prepared by the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Mr. Rafael Rivas Posada, in fulfillment of the mandate conferred by resolution 1991/68 of the Commission, para. 30, Human Rights Commission, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1991/27 (January 28, 1992) (by Rafael Rivas Posada)

[7]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[8]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[9]Cf. IACHR, Annual Report 2021, Chap. IV.B Cuba, para. 70

[10]Prisoners Defenders, Direct Attestation: This is how peaceful protesters in Cuba are being judged , July 17, 2021.

[11]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[12]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[13]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[14]Justice 11J and Cubalex, Newsletter June 2022. Available at:

[15]Diario las Americas, Available at: Fuerza -protestas-n4249031

[16]Infobae, The UN Committee against Enforced Disappearances asked Cuba for explanations for what happened after the protests of July 11, January 21, 2022, Available at: /2022/01/21/the-committee-against-enforced-disappearances-of-the-un-asked-for-explanations-from-cuba-for-what-happened-after-the-protests-of-11- -July/

[17]CRC, Final Observations, CRC/C/CUB/CO/3-6, June 16, 2022, para. 26(e).

[18]IACHR, Annual Report 2021, Chap. IV.B Cuba, para. 77.

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