At the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Journalists in Cuba” held in the 150th Period of Sessions of the IACHR on March 25, 2014, the Commission learned about the constant violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and free movement of independent journalists in this country. The aforementioned is evident in arbitrary detentions, attacks, persecutions, harassment, surveillance, work equipment seizures and threats committed by government agents356. In this regard the petitioners noted that in the early months of the year, the authorities detained 1817 members of civil society; 31 were independent journalists. Likewise, they noted that at that time there were at least 68 human rights activists in prison, three of them are reporters and their detention was related to their freedom of expression. The petitioners highlighted the cases of reporters Ángel Santiesteban Prats, blogger and novelist; sentenced to five years incarceration. Yoennis de Jesús Guerra García correspondent for the Yayabo Press agency, sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Juan Antonio Torres, correspondent for the Official Body of the Communist Party, sentenced to 14 years in jail for espionage.
According to the petitioners, the country has a judicial framework that allows for imprisonment and repression of reporters357. Pursuant to the 1999 Law 88, no Cuban may express and disseminate their opinion on the public administration, financial management or social policy of the current government. The country has different crimes that are codified to criminalize journalists and protect public officials, such as contempt, attacks, resistance, state of danger, disobedience, associations, meetings and illegal protests, clandestine literature, illegal economic activity, and others. According to the petitioners, there were at least 60 arbitrary detentions related to the exercise of freedom of expression.
The petitioners believe these issues are even more concerning for those reporters in provinces, where it is more difficult to file complaints. They specifically mentioned three media outlets: Arabescos de Guantánamo, in the Guantanamo province; El Bayamés, in the Granma province; and the monthly Fernandina de Jagua, in the province of Cienfuegos. According to the petitioners, in addition to the repressive, legal and criminal measures the media faces in the capital; they also face administrative measures. As in the case of Arabescos de Guantánamo, where the director was stripped of his license to practice law and was barred from the Cuban Writers and Artists Union [Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba] (Uneac). One of his contributors was detained on the way to the office, and on a different occasion was approached by the Political Police [Policía Política]. One of his reporters, who also serves as the guardian of the literary works of a Cuban poet, was threatened with the destruction of the library archives that has "the most substantive information about this city." At El Bayamés, where most of the contributors are Protestant, they were reprimanded by the Religion Division of the Communist Party. On the other hand, the equipment of the correspondents for Fernandina de Jaguawas seized, and persons with disabilities were threatened with the withdrawal of the assistance they currently receive358.
Likewise, the petitioners reported on the state control over radio media outlets and how difficult it is for the Cuban population to access the Internet. Nonetheless, they added that new technology has allowed for the development of new areas for independent journalism. The country has developed a community of bloggers that blog about their day-to-day activities, there are 40 critical blogs managed on foreign servers. They have joined and created news agencies359.
Lastly, petitioners requested the Commission urge the State to (i) repeal the crimes in the Criminal Code that affect freedom of expression in the country; (ii) repeal Law 88 that represses freedom of information; (iii) create a law to regulate the free exercise of freedom of expression; (iv) attend to the bill to modify the 1977 Association Law in order to allow journalists to connect in order to create media outlets and be a professional field; (v) for the IACHR to invite the Cuban Government to participate in the Inter-American Human Rights System in order to facilitate discussion of all the topics relating to freedom of information; and (vi) for the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression to report specifically on the freedom of expression in Cuba.
The IACHR is troubled by the facts reported and, as it has on other occasions, must point out that in Cuba, there are no guarantees of any kind to ensure exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
In the case of Ángel Santiesteban Prats, the IACHR granted precautionary measures on September 26, 2014. These measures were requested on June 13, 2013360. Ángel Santiesteban Prats, a writer and author of a blog critical of the government called “Los hijos que nadie quiso” [The Children Nobody Wanted] has reportedly been imprisoned since February 28, 2013, after a Havana provincial court sentenced him in early 2012 to five years in prison for the supposed crimes of “trespassing and battery.” On January 28, 2013, the People’s Supreme Court reportedly denied his appeal and confirmed his conviction. Santiesteban maintained that the charges against him had been trumped up and were politically motivated.361 According to the information received by the IACHR, Santiesteban was a victim of different attacks, threats and harassment by the prison authorities. In July, 2014 relatives of the writer and blogger couldn’t communicate with him and didn’t know his location. The authorities at first stated that he escaped; later his relatives received the news he was on a police station. The time frame were his relatives couldn’t communicate with him, occurred after an interview granted by his son on July 15 to Televisión Martí where he said he had been forced to corroborate false accusations against his father. The precautionary measures for Santiesteban Prats were also granted in favor of his son362.
The Inter-American Commission cautiously received information regarding the detention of Roberto de Jesús Guerra; the reporter and editor of Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was detained at the José Martí airport when he was returning from his presentation at the “Hearing on the Human Rights Situation of Journalists in Cuba” in the 150th Period of Sessions of the IACHR and after a press event in Mexico. According to reports, the reporter was detained for several hours and the authorities seized documents and work related books363.
Detention, attacks and threats against defenders, journalists, members of the opposition and demonstrators
Throughout 2014, the Inter-American Commission received information regarding alleged members of state forces conducting numerous short term arrests, detentions, attacks, harassment and threats against journalists, activists, defenders or government opposition members, because of their expressions and positions critical of the governing party; as well as their peaceful demonstrations and protests against the national government. Following are some of the main cases reported.
The Commission continued receiving information regarding various harassment, detentions and attacks against the members of the organization Ladies in White. According to the organization, hundreds of women were arbitrarily detained each month by police officers. The majority of these detentions occurred when the Ladies in White tried to go to mass, their Literary Teas or other activities364. For example, on January 3, 2014, agents of the State Security [Seguridad del Estado] and the National Police [Policía Nacional] entered the headquarters of this organization in different provinces and seized toys collected to deliver to children on three kings day. In some cases they also seized other objects such as laptops, mobile phones, documents and books, among other things. During the operations, some people were detained, threatened and/or assaulted.365 On January 5, 73 women in various provinces of Cuba, who were trying to go to mass, were detained366. On January 6 and 7 there were acts of repudiation against the members of this organization; Sandra Guerra, Mayelín Peña and Adriana Portales, in the community of Ojo de Agua, in the Mayabeque province, that lasted from the morning hours until noon367. In January, the organization reported 319 detentions368. Sandra Guerra and Arianna Portales were once more detained on February 19 in the Ojo de Agua community when they were supposed to travel to Havana by bus for a meeting of the organization369. On February 23 over 145 women who were trying to go to mass and participate in the march commemorating the death of a certain political prisoner, were detained in different regions of the country370. The organization reported that 395 women were detained in February371. On March 9, 59 women were detained372. On March 18, while at a Literary Tea, there were acts of repudiation against the National Headquarters in the Capital, also at least 30 ladies were detained in different cities373. The organization reported that 207 women were detained in March374. On April 27 at least 87 women were detained375. In April, the organization reported 200 detentions376. Between May 23 and 24 the authorities detained Berta Soler, the leader of the movement, and over 60 women when they intended to attend a Literary Tea at the headquarters for the organization in Havana. Soler and 54 other women were detained days earlier when they were accompanying a member of the group to file a complaint of domestic violence.377 The organization reported 571 detentions in May378. On June 15 and 22, the group reported over 160 women detained by State agents while the ladies were attempting to go to mass379. Additionally, on June 18 over 90 women were detained when attempting to attend a Literary Tea380. According to the organization, there were 539 arrests in June381, in July there were at least 263 detentions382 and in August 190 women were detained383. On September 28, alleged agents of the State Security Department (DSE) and the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) detained 39 members of the organization, in different provinces across the country, when they intended to go to mass.384 According to Berta Soler, the spokesperson for the organization, security forces detained 187 women in total during the month of September385. During the month of October, the organization reported over 160 detentions386. While participating in different activities, at least 140 women were detained in November387.
On May 12, 2014, the IACHR extended the precautionary measure granted on October 28, 2013 to include approximately 237 members of that organization388. The decision was related to the events occurring between April 3 and 5 in the city of Gibara, in the province of Holguín, where six members of the organization were assaulted, detained, targets of repudiation acts, as well as having their homes searched where documents and other objects were removed.
On January 3, 2014, Pablo Morales Marchán, correspondent for Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was detained by agents of State Security Department (DSE) and the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) after offering telephone statements to a radio show on the Radio Martí station. His statements were related, among others, to the impact the discourse of Raúl Castro has on the Cuban population following his first official media appearance on 2014. The reporter was arrested for several hours389.
During the month of January, 2014, journalists Pablo Morales Marchan, Ignacio Luis González Vidal, Denis Noa Martínez and Tamara Rodríguez were also arrested during the course of their work390.
At the II Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held January 28-30 in Havana, there were hundreds of detentions, which could reach more than the 200 mark. According to reports, as of the 23 and up until the conclusion of the Summit, activists, attorneys, oppositionists, reporters, journalists, bloggers, religious leaders, members of the Ladies in White and other organizations were detained; some remained in prison over six days391. According to what the IACHR learned, reporters Mario Hecheverría Driggs, David Águila Montero, William Cacer Días, Denis Noa Martínez and Pablo Morales Marchán were detained during the Summit. In the same manner, reporters Raúl Ramírez Puig and José Leonel Silva were detained and threatened so they would not leave their homes during those days. Their
respective residences were under surveillance392. Similarly, Gabriel Salvia, the General Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America [Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina] (Cadal); was removed from the country. He was there as one of the organizers of the II Democratic Forum of International Relations and Human Rights [II Foro Democrático en Relaciones Internacionales y Derechos Humanos], a parallel event to the CELAC Summit393.
Activists Rosario Morales and Melkis Faure were detained for several hours on February 10 after protesting in Havana, where they had signs that denounced government officials such as Fidel and Raúl Castro394.
The political police detained at least 30 coalition FANTU-UNPACU (United Anti-Totalitarian Front and Patriotic Union of Cuba) [Frente Antitotalitario Unido y la Unión Patriótica de Cuba] activists in the city of Santa Clara upon attempting to congregate for their weekly meeting. Guillermo Fariñas Hernández was one of the detainees who reported he was threatened with death and discussed other alleged attacks on the detainees395. On March 3, 24 members of the coalition in the city of Santa Clara were detained when attempting to go to their weekly meeting. According to reports, the detainees were violently attacked when they refused to yell out phrases favoring the Government. This was the eighth consecutive Monday with detentions before the meetings396.
Carlos Manuel Figueroa Álvarez and Santiago Roberto Montes were detained on February 13 during a civic protest in Cathedral Plaza [Plaza de la Catedral] in the Havana Vieja municipality. During the protest, the detainees had signs where they requested freedom for political prisoners and respect for human rights397.
On February 12, members of the Cuban Community Journalists Network [Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios] were detained and beat in the municipality of Centro Habana. According to reports, Juliet Michelena, José Antonio Sierres, Bily Joe Landa, Juan Carlos Díaz y Yuleidis López, members of the organization were detained and assaulted to be taken into custody398.
Journalist William Cacer Días was detained on at least two occasions in February. The first was on the 14 of that month, allegedly in a violent manner, by State Security Agents (DSE) and by National Revolutionary Police (PNR) after having interviewed a leader of the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and Family Members [Comisión de Atención a Presos Políticos y Familiares]. The second took place on February 28 by a state security officer, while he was interviewing residents of a street where there had been landfalls399.
On February 15, agents for the State Security Department beat and detained several activists who attempted to meet at a house in Santiago de las Vegas belonging to a leader of the Opposition for a New Republic Movement [Movimiento Opositores por una Nueva República] (MONR)400.
On February 18, a group of evangelical pastors belonging to the Pastors for Change [Pastores por el Cambio] organization were harassed by paramilitary groups while preaching in public at the Bayamo municipality, in the Granma province401.
Agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) detained during several hours members of the Opposition for a New Republic Movement (MONR) in the municipality of Cotorro after holding a meeting at a house belonging to a leader of this group. The activists were threatened with future detentions if the meetings were to continue and they were prohibited from carrying out an activity to commemorate the February 23 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo; considered a political prisoner402.
On February 27, Human Rights activist and meber of the organization Ladies in White Melkis Faure Echevarría was violently detained during a protest on a street in Havana. A person who attempted to defend her was attacked403.
According to reports, different correspondents for the Centro de Información Hablemos Press were detained in March during the course of their work. Such were the cases of Ignacio Luis González, William Cacer Díaz, Raúl Ramírez Puig and José Leonel Silva Guerrero404.
The IACHR learned of the detention of 21 activists Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and Family Members (CAPPF) after protesting in front of a National Revolutionary Police (PNR) Unit in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón in Havana on March 12.405
On April 12, reporter Dania Virgen García was attacked by police officers when she was dropping her nephew off at school. Two reporters for the official television began recording the attack and were detained for that reason for several hours.406
On April 23, at least 12 members of the Cuban Community Journalists Network were detained in Havana when attempting to meet for their weekly meetings. People who arrived in order to observe and record with their cellular phones were also arrested.407
The night of April 23, alleged members of the Police held reporter José Ramón Borges in Santa Clara and threatened with taking him to prison if he continued publishing reports on the YouTube Channel NacanVideos and if he continued to be a correspondent for the editing and publishing of the digital magazine El Cartero Nacán. According to reports, the journalist was returning to the city from Havana when he was detained and handcuffed at the terminal and taken to a police station where he was interrogated, some components were seized, and his computer was checked without authorization. Borges stated that he was detained on two earlier occasions with the supposed objective of disallowing him from attending the writer’s council408. On May 5, he was detained once again when travelling to Santa Clara. Borges was held in a cell for about 20 hours. When released, the documents on his laptop were deleted and his USB memory sticks were seized in order to research the content409.
The Inter-American Commission learned of over 360 detentions of the opposition in early May, allegedly for attempting to meet or participate in peaceful activities. Some cases occurred in the city of Santa Clara where at least 18 activists were detained on May 8for attempting to place flowers at a mausoleum of a member of the opposition. On May 12, 31 members of the FANTU-UNPACU coalition UNPACU (United Anti-Totalitarian Front and Patriotic Union of Cuba) [Frente Antitotalitario Unido y la Unión Patriótica de Cuba] were detained for attempting to meet; Guillermo Fariñas Hernandez was among them. Three activists who attempted to protest were detained in Havana on May 8. In the San Miguel del Padrón municipality, 32 members of the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and Family Members (CAPPF) were detained when attempting to meet at their headquarters410.
Reporter José Antonio Sánchez was arrested in Havana for distributing the pamphlet for the digital magazine Misceláneas de Cuba in a city park on May 6. The journalist was interrogated for several hours and he was warned that if he were to distribute the magazine, Law 88 would be applied for printing and distributing “subversive material”. Three other people were detained along with the reporter because they refused to hand over the magazine copies411.
IACHR received information regarding different attacks against the members of Centro de Información Hablemos Press during June. In that regard, on the 11th, Robert Jesús Guerra, director and founder, was violently assaulted by a stranger in Havana, causing him several injuries. According to Guerra, he received threatening phone calls prior to the attack412. On June 7, correspondent Raúl Ramírez Puig in the Mayabeque province was charged at with an automobile. The passengers warned him to be careful because “anything could happen”. On June 8, his correspondent Mario Hechavarría Driggs, was detained by State Security Department agents for about five hours. Yeander Farrés Delgado, a journalism student and correspondent to the center, was detained for several hours when he was taking pictures of the Havana Capitol. Journalist Magaly Norvis Otero also received threatening phone calls at the office number and on June 12 was called upon by State Security Department agents to change the tone of her articles as the State was displeased. The alleged phone blocking of some journalists in this agency by the Cuban Telecommunications Company [Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba] (ETECSA) was also reported. According to reports, the telephones are disconnected from the only network in the country413.
On June 11, ten members of the Cuban Community Journalists Network were detained upon arrival to their weekly meeting at the headquarters in Centro Habana. Two plain-clothes women attacked director Martha Beatriz Roque when she was attempting to exit the place in order to see what was going on with the reporters. A security officer arrived afterwards and confirmed she was not allowed to exit the premises414.
According to reports, 8 activists were detained on June 13 as they protested in Havana. Four of them were sent to prison and would face charges of the alleged crimes of “subversion”[atentado] and “resisting [arrest]”. Also 39 members of the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and Family Members (CAPPF) were detained on June 13 while marching as a tribute to “Remolcador 13 de marzo”415. On June 18 ten journalists of the Cuban Community Journalists Network were detained when attempting to meet at headquarters in Havana416. At least 23 members of the coalition FANTU-UNPACU (United Anti-Totalitarian Front and Patriotic Union of Cuba) [Frente Antitotalitario Unido y la Unión Patriótica de Cuba] were detained when attempting to meet in the city of Santa Clara on June 23. Similarly, 25 activists of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Action Front were arrested that day when attempting to meet417.
On July 2 the following memebers the Cuban Community Journalists Network were detained: Jorge Bello Domínguez y Yuneisy López González in the municipality of Güira de Melena and Bárbara Fernández Barrero and Misael Aguiar Domínguez in the municipality of San Antonio de Baños. The detentions were made allegedly in order to prohibit them from attending meetings in the capital of the province. According to reports, the journalists were detained in early hours of the day and were released at nightfall. The incident was repeated with Fernández Barrero y Aguiar Domínguez on July 9 in San Antonio de Baños418.
On July 28, in the city of Matanzas, two alleged National Police Officers temporarily detained independent reporter Oscar Sánchez Madan and inspected his personal property419.
Journalist Miguel Guerra Pérez was detained in August. According to the information received, he was released on September 1, after being held for one week420.
On September 6, journalist Bernardo Arévalo was arrested and threatened by alleged National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officers, in the Cienfuegos province. The journalist writes articles critical of the government in the opposition paper El Cubano Libre Hoy [Cubans Free Today]. According to statements made by the journalist to Reporters Without Borders, the officers pressured him to leave Cuba threatening to incarcerate him if he didn’t421. On September 28, alleged security forces officers detained the journalist again, along with his wife. According the available information, he was taken to the People’s Power offices at that location; there he was forced to undress and was held for two hours. Additionally, they took his work material. Arévalo Padréon was in prison between 1997 and 2003, charged with “contempt” [desacato] of high government authorities.422
On September 13, journalist Ricardo Sánchez Tamayo, correspondent for Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was detained for 48 hours; allegedly as retaliation for the distribution of the newspaper in the municipality of Bayamo423.
On September 30, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, director and reporter for Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was detained yet again, this time for five hours at the international airport in Havana, upon returning from Panama. According to his statement, his digital recorder was seized at customs424.
On October 3, Ignacio Luis González, editor for Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was detained again during the recording of images for a report. González was released after three hours of interrogation425.
On October 7 and 8, Carlos Manuel Pupo Rodríguez, the leader of the Union for a Free Cuba Political Party [Partido Unión por Cuba Libre], was detained in the Mayabeque province. According to his report his residence was under the surveillance of the State Security Department and the National Revolutionary Police, for several days, allegedly to prohibit his travel to Havana. He was arrested by officers both times he tried to leave his house that day. He reported that he had received threats from alleged Police officers, who warned him not to travel to Havana426.
The IACHR received information regarding the November 25 attacks at FANTU (United Anti-totalitarian Front) [Frente Antitotalitario Unido]weekly meetings in the city of Santa Clara. According to reports a man with a weapon attempted to attack opositionist Guillermo Fariñas. In an effort to avoid him others were injured, among them a member of the Ladies in White who had to undergo surgery427. The man identified as the attacker was detained428.
The Inter-American Commission is reminded that Principle 9 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles states that “[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation.”
As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission have stated, the State “has the duty to ensure that journalists and media workers reporting on public demonstrations are not arrested, threatened, assaulted, or limited in any manner in their rights as a result of practicing their profession. Their work materials and tools must not be destroyed or confiscated by the authorities.” Furthermore, “the authorities must not stigmatize or stereotype demonstrators and their demands. They must refrain from making generalizations based on isolated events or the conduct of particular groups.”429
The IACHR is also reminded that the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression “are fundamental, and guaranteeing them is a vital condition to the existence and proper functioning of a democratic society. A State may impose reasonable limitations on demonstrations for purposes of ensuring that they are conducted peacefully, or to disperse those that turn violent, provided that such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. In addition, the breaking-up of a demonstration must be warranted by the duty to protect individuals, and authorities must use the measures that are safest and least harmful to the demonstrators. The use of force at public demonstrations must be an exception, used under strictly necessary circumstances consistent with internationally recognized principles.”430
Other relevant situations
On May 21, blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez launched a new digital news site called 14ymedio. This paper is the first independent digitally based daily in the country and, according to its website, those who contributed to its creation have a "commitment to truth, freedom and human rights, without ideological or partisan ties." According to reports, minutes after it was launched, access to the media outlet in
Cuba was blocked. Those who attempted to view the site were redirected to ‘Yoani$landia’, another page with adverse information on Sánchez431. Days later the media outlet was unblocked for Cuba432.
Yoennis [or Yoeni] de Jesús Guerra García, reporter for the Yayabo Press agency, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by the Sancti Spíritus provincial court on March 13. The journalist was arrested in October of 2013 and was held as of that date in the Nieves Morejón jail, charged with “robbery” and “illegal livestock slaughter”. The journalist claimed that his arrest and conviction were related to his critical point of view towards the government and its work as an independent journalist. During his detention he was victimized on several occasions by police violence433. In July his sentence was upheld following the denial of an appeal434.
On April 7, Juliet Michelena Díaz, correspondent to the Cuban Community Journalists Network [Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios] (RCCC), was detained after taking pictures of a police operation in Havana. According to reports, the detention was based on an incident that took place on March 26; when Michelena and other RCCC correspondents witnessed the alleged use of canine units by police to stop a struggle among the city residents; one person was bit. That day, several observers who photographed the incident were detained, including Michelena who was able to hide the photographs. She was rearrested on April 2 when the authorities found out she was writing an article on the incident.435 During that detention, while in handcuffs, a woman assaulted her; she was released the next day. On April 6, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) went to her home, allegedly because the woman who assaulted her days earlier received “threats”. Michelena refused to go with the police that day due to the lack of an arrest warrant.436 Nonetheless, they returned the next day, and she was detained with the use of violence. The trial was set for April 10, however, it was postponed. New documents charge her with subversion[atentado]. On April 16, she was transferred to the prison for women known as Manto Negro437. According to reports, after seven months in prison, Mechelena was released on November 7 when a judge found her innocent on the charge of “subversion”[atentado]438.
The Inter-American Commission learned that Yoelkis Rosabal, Ricardo Pelier and Ernesto Darián Dufuss; three members of the political group Cuban Patriotic Union [Unión Patriótica de Cuba] were sentenced to four, three and two years respectively of imprisonment for the alleged crime of public disorderly conduct. All three were detained on May 15, after protesting the detention of Yohannes Arce, another Unpacu colleague, in the municipality of Caimanera in Guantanamo. They were tried on October 24 and alerted as to their conviction on November 12. Likewise in September, Yohannes Arce was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the alleged crime of subversion [atentado]439.
On June 19, Yulio Ferrer Bravo, a Human Rights defender and member of the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and Family Members was detained at his residence in Havana. According to what the activist reported, he was detained for yelling “down with Fidel!” during a discussion with his mother. A neighbor reported him to the authorities and hours later alleged agents of the State Security Department (DSE) and Police officers showed up at his residence, attacked him and arrested him. According to reports, he was charged with the supposed crime of “public disorderly conduct440”. He was placed on probation in September. On October 9 he had to appear before the Court for Crimes against the Security of the State, but the trial has been continued441.
On October 16, political prisoner Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga went on a hunger strike protesting his six year imprisonment sentence for the alleged crime of attack against the security of the State. Remón, a hip hop singer known as “El Crítico” [The Critic], and a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was detained as of March 26, 2013, when he was arrested for protesting442. Remón interrupted his hunger strike in November when he was allowed to appeal the sentence.443
The Inter-American Commission would again point out that Principle 1 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles provides that “[f]reedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals. Additionally, it is an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society,” while Principle 5 states that “[r]estrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression.” Principle 13, for its part, affirms that “[t]he means of communication have the right to carry out their role in an independent manner. Direct or indirect pressures exerted upon journalists or other social communicators to stifle the dissemination of information are incompatible with freedom of expression.” Similarly, the State has a duty to adopt the legislative and other measures necessary to ensure a pluralist and diverse media, including laws that prevent public or private monopolies.
The Inter-American Commission is recommending to the Cuban State that it review and amend its domestic laws regulating freedom of expression, to bring them in line with international standards on this subject. Accordingly, it is particularly urging the State to adopt adequate measures to prevent violence against journalists, including public censure of any act of aggression and adequate measures to train public officials, especially the police and security forces; to take the measures necessary to prevent violence against journalists covering public demonstrations and against demonstrators, to establish reasonable limits, dictated by the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, to ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful, as well as to conduct serious, impartial and effective investigations into attacks, threats and acts of intimidation committed against journalists and others working in the media.
Similarly, it is recommending the State to promote the repeal of laws that criminalize desacato,no matter what form it takes, since such laws are contrary to inter-American standards and restrict public discourse, an essential element to enable democracies to function; to promote amendment of the laws criminalizing defamation to eliminate the use of criminal proceedings to protect honor and reputation when information of interest to the public is disseminated regarding public officials or candidates for public office; to encourage democratic debate through public statements, practices and policies that promote tolerance and respect for all persons as equals and irrespective of their thinking or ideas; to repeal any provision that allows prior censorship by any organ of the State, and any preconditions that may imply censorship of freedom of expression, such as prerequisites as to veracity, timeliness and impartiality in reporting; to refrain from exercising public power to punish or reward media and journalists for their editorial line or coverage of certain news, whether through discriminatory and arbitrary placement of government advertising or other indirect means aimed at blocking the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions; to promote effective laws, policies and practices that allow access to information and equal participation of all sectors of society so that their needs, opinions and interests are taken into account when crafting and adopting decisions; to adopt legislative and other measures necessary to guarantee pluralism, including laws that prevent public or private monopolies; and to adjust the institutional frameworks so as to prevent the possibility that state powers might be used to reward or punish the media, according to their editorial line and instead use them to encourage pluralism and diversity in public discourse.
Human rights defenders in Cuba continue to face adverse conditions for exercising the defense of rights, given that they are subjected to dangerous conditions because of their activities. The IACHR has noted that the work performed by these defenders, in protecting individuals and groups of individuals who are victims of human rights violations, publicly condemning the injustices that affect large sectors of society, and pointing to the need for citizen oversight of public officials and democratic institutions, among other activities, means that they play an irreplaceable role in building444 societies that respect human rights. At the same time, the oversight, reporting, and educational activities carried out by human rights defenders often exposes them to situations of harassment, smear campaigns, and attacks on their lives and personal freedom and integrity. Therefore, the Commission has reiterated that when any one individual is prevented from defending human rights, the rest of society is directly affected.
In view of the foregoing, the IACHR is concerned about information gathered over the course of the year 2014 that confirms the very pattern identified in Chapter IV of the 2013 Annual Report according to which human rights defenders in Cuba are the object of alleged physical attacks, arbitrary short-term detentions that last from a few hours to several days, acts of repudiation, and limitations on the peaceful exercise of their rights of demonstration and assembly, aimed at silencing or intimidating them.
Alleged arbitrary arrests
The Commission has received information about the use of pretrial detention or the temporary detention of individuals, including political dissidents and human rights defenders, in the context of peaceful social protests. According to the Cuban Human Rights Observatory, by the month of September 2014, around 6,500 arbitrary arrests of political dissidents had occurred in the context of peaceful demonstrations.445 There were 1,052 arbitrary arrests in the month of January alone, which is the highest number of detentions in the past four years.446
In this context, according to the information received, women human rights defenders continue to be victims of repeated physical attacks, to be arbitrarily arrested during social protest demonstrations, and to be restricted or prevented from peacefully exercising their right to assembly. This has especially been the case with the members of the group Ladies in White, who have been subject to mass arrests of their members as a way of deterring them from exercising their rights to demonstrate and assemble. As noted above, on October 28, 2013, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to the organization’s members and asked the State to adopt the measures necessary to protect their lives and personal integrity.447 This precautionary measure was extended on May 12, 2014.448 With regard to this matter, the IACHR received information indicating that on April 20, 2014, Berta Soler Fernández, representative of the Ladies in White, and her husband Ángel Moya Acosta, member of the group of 75 of the Black Spring of March 2003, had reportedly been detained for four hours. Subsequently, on April 30, Mr. Moya Acotsa was reportedly arrested twice on the same day for a period of 12 hours, and was allegedly brutally beaten by officers of the National Revolutionary Police. 449 The IACHR also received information that on May 19, 2014, 45 members of the organization and another 25 dissidents were allegedly arrested and beaten by law-enforcement officers and many were reportedly locked up for 10 hours.450 In addition, it came out that on July 14, 2014, around 100 Ladies in White were reportedly arrested during their Sunday march after attending mass in the parish of Santa Rita. A group of uniformed police officers and plainclothesmen supposedly arrested the members of the organization during a counter-demonstration by government supporters.451
Furthermore, on May 14, 2014, two Ladies in White were detained and beaten by members of the Holguín Province Department of State Security (DSE) to prevent them from attending mass at a local church. The Ladies in White indicate that 55 Ladies were detained on May 19, 2014, as they made their way to the Caprí police station to report alleged domestic violence against Yalenis Cutiño Martínez and held for 10 hours at the Vivac prison criminal processing center. Thirty were detained in June 2014 on their way to the La Palma People’s Municipal Court to support a Lady filing a complaint of domestic violence. On June 13, 2014, seventy-eight Ladies in White were detained to prevent them from reaching the coast of Cuba to attend a tribute to the victims of the sinking of the Trece de Marzo tugboat.452
Moreover, it was reported that on June 11, 2014, the opposition leaders Jorge Luis García Antúnez, National Secretary of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front [Frente Nacional de Resistencia Orlando Zapata Tamayo] and his wife Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, leader of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement [Movimiento Femenino Rosa Parks] were violently arrested and that their home was broken into by the National Revolutionary Police and the Department of State Security.453 The defenders were allegedly released on June 12, 2014. The officers who arrested Mr. Antúnez supposedly told him that “we broke in to your house for three reasons: first, because you are inciting to the point of propaganda, you have turned Placetas into a regular bulletin board; second, because here you have become the spokesperson in Cuba in league with the extreme right in exile in obstructing the normalization of Cuba-US relations; third, we know that here in Cuba you are leading this new trend that is causing problems for us, that the Revolution can make a comeback and because of you and many other recalcitrants in and out of Cuba it has not.” In addition, Mr. Antúnez indicated that he was subjected to an interrogation in which a man in a white robe reportedly tried to strangle him; he allegedly lost consciousness twice and was injected with a substance so that he would recover.454
On June 15, Mr. Pérez Antúnez and his wife Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera were reportedly arrested once again after staging a protest to request medical care for a man who was found thrown by the wayside.455 Ms. Pérez Aguilera was apparently released the next day and reported that her husband had been cruelly beaten in cell number 16 of the Police Instruction Unit for Cuban State law-enforcement officers.456 On June 20, Mr. Antúnez was sentenced with the precautionary measure of house arrest while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of “disorderly conduct.”457 However, on July 3, the charges against him were dropped.458
On October 15, Rafael Juan Mesa Gallardo, manager for the Constitutional Consensus [Consenso Constitucional] project, and the activists Joel Lazo Mesa, Marina Núñez Márquez, and Bartolo Alfredo Salgado, were arrested in the city of Manzanillo, municipality of Granma, allegedly in retaliation for the work they had been doing in the city on the round tables for the constitutional initiative [Mesas de Iniciativa Constitucional], the collection of signatures for a constitutional assembly in Cuba, and the Economic Forum for Entrepreneurs [Foro Económico para Emprendedores].459
With regard to mass arrests in the context of demonstrations and social protests, the IACHR reminds the State of the standards set forth by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which has indicated that a mere disturbance is not sufficient to justify the arrest of an individual who is protesting peacefully; rather, for such an arrest to be legal, the individual must effectively instigate or provoke violence, interfering with the rights or freedoms of others.460 Likewise, the Inter-American Court has established that planned, mass arrests of individuals without legal grounds, in which the State collectively arrests individuals whom the authority supposes, could represent a risk or danger to the security of others, without well-founded signs that a crime has been committed, are illegal and arbitrary arrests.461
The IACHR urges the State to review domestic legislation and to strictly define the grounds and procedures that govern imprisonment in order to bring domestic laws into line with international standards. It therefore calls on the State to adopt the measures necessary to stop all illegal arrests as well as solitary confinement, abuse, and other violations of due process that may occur in the context of the arrests to which human rights defenders have been subjected in the exercise of their rights-defending activities.
In 2014, the IACHR continued to receive information that indicates that human rights defenders have been the object of harassment and physical attacks because of their reporting or human-rights promoting activities. For example, it came out that on January 9, 2014, the human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leiva, president of the Council of Human Rights Reporters of Cuba [Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba] and his wife Tania Maceda, member of the Ladies in White, had reportedly been physically attacked while distributing the newsletter la Voz Avileña along with five other colleagues.462 Apparently, after this distribution, they were beaten and dragged to the police patrol vehicle by members of the National Revolutionary Police. According to reports, Mr. González, who is blind, had his hands tied behind his back and was severely beaten in the face and head. Upon exiting the vehicle he was strangled until he suffocated and as a result lost consciousness. Meanwhile, Ms. Maceda’s hair was pulled out, and she was bitten and beaten on the head. All were all apparently released without being interrogated.463
Likewise, the IACHR has continued to receive information about acts of aggression and attacks against Ms. Damaris Moya Portieles, member of the Rosa Parks Women’s Civil Rights Movement [Movimiento Femenino por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks], and her family. Ms. Moya Portieles had been the victim of grave acts of violence and intimidation in the past, for which reason the IACHR granted her precautionary measures to protect her life and integrity, as well as those of her daughter, on June 12, 2012.464 Despite such measures, in 2013 Ms. Portieles was allegedly subjected to sexual assault and her daughter was threatened.465 The attacks against Ms. Portieles reportedly continued in 2014; it came out that on January 2 her children were apparently beaten by officers of the National Revolutionary Police in Santa Clara.466 Subsequently, on March 13, 2014, Ms. Moya Portieles was reportedly arrested, presumably in order to prevent her from participating in the weekly meeting of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Front [Frente Orlando Zapata Tamayo] committee.467 Likewise, it came out that on August 26, 2014, the defender’s house was raided by State law-enforcement forces, who presumably attacked her eight-year-old daughter and threatened her five-year-old son.
The IACHR also received information to the effect that this past June 11, Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, human rights defender and independent journalist, was attacked by an unknown individual in the street. According to reports, the act occurred in front of State Security employees, who did not intervene. Guerra Pérez was transferred to the Calixto García University Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fractured nasal septum, multiple bruises on his face, and a dislocated right knee. According to public reports, days before the events described here, the defender and journalist Guerra Pérez and his wife, Magali Norvis Otero Suárez, member of the Ladies in White board, had received threatening phone calls, which apparently continued after the attack.468
The Commission recalls the essential role that defenders have had and continue to have in condemning human rights violations. Acts of violence and other attacks against these defenders thus affect their fundamental role in society and plunge everyone they work for into a state of vulnerability. Therefore, the IACHR calls on the Cuban State to provide the means necessary in order to enable human rights defenders to “freely carry out their activities; protect them when they receive threats so as to prevent attacks on their lives and integrity; create the conditions to eradicate violations by State agents or other individuals; refrain from hindering their work and seriously and effectively investigating violations committed against them, combating impunity.”469