Freedom of Expression

Press Release R28/21

The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses concern about the persistent harassment against journalists, artists, and human rights defenders who exercise their freedom of expression in Cuba


February 5, 2021.

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterates its concern at the persistent attacks against independent journalists, artists, and human rights defenders who exercise their freedom of expression in Cuba. Likewise, it urges the State to put an end to the harassment, which includes citations, arbitrary detentions, pressure on their family and their surroundings, and judicial harassment, against those who legitimately exercise their right to freedom of expression.

On January 27, within the framework of a gathering in front of the Ministry of Culture for the anniversary of the birth of José Martí and two months after the paradigmatic "27N" protest, journalists, artists, and writers were attacked and some were detained by security forces. According to available information, the escalation of violence began when the Minister of Culture seized the phone of journalist Mauricio Mendoza of Diario de Cuba and, together with two vice ministers of the agency, began throw punches against the protesters. This situation reportedly triggered several violent arrests and the dissolution of the demonstration. According to what this Office learned, 27 people were reportedly detained starting in the morning time and were progressively released in the afternoon until the last hours of the day. When heading to the police station, the security forces allegedly stripped several protesters of their cell phones, some of which were reset. Likewise, two women activists indicated that they were stripped and invasively patted down by the police. Various human rights defense organizations and the Cuban media warned that at the time these events were taking place, they received reports of cuts to the mobile internet data service.

In this context, additionally, journalist Luz Escobar was reportedly forced to stay at her home by a State Security agent who stood near her door, while journalist Iliana Hernández, activists Anyell Valdés Cruz and Adrián Rubio, and the artists and coordinators of the San Isidro Movement, Iris Ruiz and Amaury Pacheco del Monte, reported surveillance operations in the vicinity of their homes.

As the IACHR has repeatedly warned, in Cuba there is a practice of persecution and harassment against journalists and independent media, human rights defenders, and artists who denounce the lack of freedoms and political rights or participate in political affairs. In this regard, the IACHR has affirmed that Cuba shows "a marked intolerance in relation to artistic manifestations that could question either the benefits of the political system or the successes of the leading group." The Commission and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have continued to receive information indicating that ideological discrepancy has been a reason to prevent artistic expressions of various kinds, which serve to protest.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls, in this regard, that social protest constitutes a fundamental tool for the defense of human rights, essential for the political and social critical expression of the activities of the authorities, as well as for the establishment of positions and action plans regarding human rights.

As indicated in the Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the State to recognize and protect the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, without discrimination based on political opinion. Likewise, it insists on the recommendations made in the aforementioned report with regards to putting an end, in the shortest time, to the practice of surveillance and harassment of independent activists, artists, and journalists who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

This Office reminds that, in accordance with Principle 11 of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, "[p]ublic officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as "desacato laws," restrict freedom of expression and the right to information."

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