Freedom of Expression

Press Release R149/16

IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur express concern for retaliation actions of the Cuban State against an organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression

October 13, 2016

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express their concern over the persistence of acts of harassment and retaliation against the members of the non-governmental organization Cubalex (Legal Information Center) by State agents. These episodes occurred following the presentation of a report prepared by Cubalex on the situation of freedom of expression in Cuba and presented to the United Nations. The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur urge the Cuban State to cease these actions and effectively ensure that the members of this organization are able to exercise their rights and defend human rights free from undue interference.

According to the information received, on September 23, the Cubalex headquarters in Havana was subject to a warrantless search by police and State security officers, and work property was seized as part of an alleged tax investigation into unlawful financial activities. Attorney Laritza Diversent, the Center’s Director, stated to a Cuban media outlet that the real reasons for the operation were "the official response to a report on the situation of freedom of expression in Cuba" that Cubalex had presented weeks earlier to the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression at UN headquarters in Geneva.

According to reports, the mobile phone service of the Cubalex members who were at the office, their relatives’ mobile phone service, and the organization’s landline were all cut off by the government an hour before the raid. 

During the search of the premises, five computers were confiscated, including a server and four laptops, as well as three printers, several mobile telephones, security cameras, and confidential documents and records on various cases handled by the office. In addition, the members of Cubalex were reportedly subjected to questioning and five of them—four men and one woman—were forced to remove their clothing for a strip search. The members of the organization were reportedly denied food for 13 hours. It was also reported that two members of the team were arrested. Activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez Noriega was released, while independent attorney Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo is still being held in a Havana prison.

The search of Cubalex’s headquarters reportedly followed the arbitrary detention of Laritza Diversent upon her return from Geneva on August 12, 2016, and other similar previous arrests.

Laritza Diversent and other Cubalex members are the beneficiaries of precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which on April 22, 2015 requested that the Cuban State take the necessary measures to safeguard their lives and ensure their humane treatment. In addition, the IACHR asked Cuba to allow them to work without being subject to harassment.

The Commission and the Office of the Special Rapporteur recall that individuals who form an association have the right to hold opinions and disseminate information of all kinds, including political, without interference from the State and without being limited by borders. Indeed, the protection of the freedom of individuals to disclose information and collectively promote their interests and demands is one of the objectives of the freedom of association, without which it would lose its effectiveness and raison d'être. The Inter-American Court has held that freedom of association is not exhausted with the theoretical acknowledgment of the right to form association, "but rather consists, additionally and inseparably, of the right to use any appropriate means to exercise that freedom."

Additionally, the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterate that the members of groups, particularly those engaged in human rights defense work, must enjoy broad freedom of expression in relation to their activities and demands, which includes the freedom to criticize the government’s policies. If the members of human rights defense organizations are unable to express themselves freely, disseminate information to defend rights, and communicate them to the government and to the community in general, they are deprived of one of the most important lawful means of action and pressure.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.