IACHR and RFOE: 2 Years on from July 11 Protests, the State Must Stop Repression in Cuba

July 17, 2023

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Washington, D.C.—On the second anniversary of the mass protests in Cuba, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE) condemned the ongoing state repression targeting those who participated in or supported these demonstrations, as well as the press that covered them. The State must end this course of action, respect freedom of expression, and guarantee the rights of association and peaceful assembly.

The demonstrations that took place on July 11, 2021, in Cuba expressed the frustration and dissatisfaction that have built up in the population, who were demanding freedom and better living conditions by making use of their right to peaceful assembly. However, the State repressed these protests and sought to silence protesters through the use of violence, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation campaigns carried out by official security forces.

Over the past two years, the IACHR and RFOE have monitored the situation in Cuba and have documented eight patterns of repression by the State during social protests. These are mistreatment, the criminalization of protesters, the closure of democratic spaces, trials without due process guarantees, proposals for restrictive legislation, and censorship of Internet access. The IACHR has also received information on violations of due process, such as restrictions on access to criminal records, the absence of appropriate defense, and lack of contact with legal representatives.

The lack of civil and political freedom in Cuba continues to severely limit the Cuban people's ability to express themselves and participate in decisions that affect their lives. In addition, arbitrary arrests and political persecution have generated a climate of fear and repression that impede citizen engagement and the exercise of fundamental freedoms. Cuban citizens have been going into exile while others have routinely been prevented from returning to the island, which has an ongoing impact on Cubans who joined the protests.

The IACHR has also observed that these patterns of repression were not isolated events but have instead continued throughout 2022 and 2023. The underlying causes of the protests that took place in July 2021 include lack of access to basic services, food and medicine shortages, and demands for respect for civil and political rights. These grievances continue to affect the Cuban people. According to civil society records, between July 2021 and July 2022, some 1,880 people were detained due to the repression of social protest. Of these, 773 are still being deprived of their liberty. Some 909 people have been prosecuted and/or punished for taking part in the protests, and at least 84 of them have opted to go into exile after being released permanently or temporarily from detention.

In this context, the IACHR and the RFOE are concerned about the State's persecution and censorship of journalists and media outlets that report on social protests and speak out against human rights violations. In many cases, such harassment, surveillance, and judicial persecution of independent press resulted in media workers abandoning their work covering events in Cuba and going into exile. Between August and November 2022, 23 journalists resigned from the independent media outlet elTOQUE due to fear of being criminalized and imprisoned, according to public information. A further three journalists reportedly resigned from the portals Yucabyte, Cubanet, and Periodismo de Barrio. Furthermore, the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) recorded 90 cases of media workers who left the country in 2022, including independent journalists, journalists who had worked or were working in state media, and social media influencers. This has severely impacted Cubans' right to freedom of expression and access to information, as it prevents them from keeping informed of matters of extreme public interest.

The IACHR and the RFOE underlined the importance of social protest, the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful and unarmed assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression for the defense of democracy and human rights and the right to participate in political life and public affairs. The State is obliged to respect, protect, and guarantee these rights. They also reiterated that the work of journalists and the media is essential to keeping the population informed, as is the free circulation of information through different media, including online platforms. In this regard, the authorities must refrain from interfering with or prohibiting the spread of information and imposing measures that limit this online or in any other publication or broadcasting format.

In this regard, the IACHR and the RFOE urgently called on the State to release all people who are being deprived of their freedom because they took part in peaceful social protests in the country, as well as journalists who have provided coverage of these protests. They also reminded the Cuban State of their request that it end its habitual lack of engagement with international human rights systems, emphasizing that openness to scrutiny and government transparency are pillars for the advancement and protection of fundamental rights.

Finally, they once again expressed their interest in visiting the country to initiate rapprochement and dialogue with the Cuban State, so as to be able to provide technical support on human rights issues as required in order to promote respect for and guarantees of human rights in Cuba.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 157/23

12:58 PM