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Cuba:'Climate of fear' created by restrictions on free expression

'In my opinion, the blogger movement in Cuba has become an excellent alternative form of free communication... I consider myself to be the voice in this dismal prison of those whose voices have been taken away from them...' Pablo Pacheco, blogging from prison, 13 July 2009 – imprisoned for his journalism.

Cuba’s repressive legal system has created a climate of fear among journalists, dissidents and activists, putting them at risk of arbitrary arrest and harassment by the authorities, Amnesty International said in a report released at a press conference in Madrid today (30 June).

The report “Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba” highlights provisions in the legal system and government practices that restrict information provided to the media and which have been used to detain and prosecute hundreds of critics of the government.

Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Director, Kerrie Howard said:

“The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak out. There is an urgent need for reform to make all human rights a reality for all Cubans.”

Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director of the Candonga online newspaper, is one of many Cuban independent journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested, interrogated and intimidated by the authorities. In September 2009 he was arbitrarily detained for 14 days, before being released without charge. At the time, police also confiscated his computer, which hosted the website, and disconnected his telephone line.

Yosvani Anzardo still does not understand why his website was closed.  He said:

“We were hoping that the government understood that what we were doing was exercising a right, we didn’t hurt anyone.  We tried very hard to give information about what was happening in the country. They [the authorities] considered this to be dangerous.”

Another journalist Pablo Pacheco Avila was one of 75 people arrested in the ‘Black Spring’ crackdown in 2003. He was sentenced to a 20-year jail term for writing articles for foreign and online newspapers, being interviewed by foreign radio stations, and publishing information via the internet.  Pablo remains in prison. Since his arrest hundreds of people in the UK have sent Pablo messages of solidarity.  

The Cuban state has a virtual monopoly on media while demanding that all journalists join the national journalists’ association, which is in turn controlled by the Communist Party.

Despite bloggers’ best attempts to circumvent restrictions, the authorities in Cuba have also set up filters which prevent people accessing blogs that openly criticise the government.

With a judiciary that is neither independent, nor impartial, critics of the government find that an unlimited range of acts can be interpreted as criminal and end up facing trials that are often summary and unfair.

Cuban authorities deny the existence of political prisoners in the country but Amnesty International knows of at least 53 prisoners of conscience who remain incarcerated in the country for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The Cuban government has sought to justify its failure to protect human rights by pointing to the negative effects of the embargo imposed by the US.

Kerrie Howard added:

“It’s clear that the US embargo has had a negative impact on the country but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people. The government needs to find solutions to end human right violations, instead of excuses to perpetrate them.”

Amnesty International calls on the Cuban government to revoke or amend legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression, end harassment of dissidents, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow free exchange of information through the internet and other media.

Kerrie Howard continued:

“The release of all prisoners of conscience and the end of harassment of dissidents are measures that the Cuban government must take immediately and unconditionally.

“However to honour its commitment to human rights, Cuba must also dismantle the repressive machinery built up over decades, and implement the reforms needed to make human rights a reality for all Cubans.”

Read the report

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