Freedom of Expression

Press Release R206/19

Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns prison sentence against journalist Roberto Quiñones and expresses concern about the persistence of criminalization and harassment against communicators and human rights defenders in Cuba

August 20, 2019

Washington D.C.  The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the detention and conviction of one year in prison against the independent journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces, for the alleged crimes of "resistance and disobedience" in Guantanamo, Cuba. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also expresses its concern regarding the persistence of criminalization of those who exercise the right to freedom of expression on the island, and notes that arbitrary detentions have been used as a method for intimidation and harassment of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists.

As the Office of the Special Rapporteur has remarked in its recent Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba, presented this year by Special Rapporteur Edison Lanza, state agents are the main source of threats and attacks against the press, a practice that must be dismantled and sanctioned. Acts of violence against journalists violate the right of victims to express and disseminate their ideas, opinions, and information; they generate a chilling and silencing effect on their peers and violate the rights of people and societies in general to seek and receive information and ideas of any kind. Its consequences for democracy—which depends on the free, open, and dynamic exchange of ideas and information—are particularly serious.

On April 22, Quiñones was detained for five days. It is reported that he was beaten by agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR). The incident occurred while the journalist was covering a trial that the Cuban State carried out against the married couple Rigal-Exposito, who were prosecuted for the decision to homeschool their children.

This Office was informed about a series of processes by which Quiñones would have tried to report the injuries caused by the police during his detention. Among them, human rights organizations reported bruises, excoriations, injuries, and perforation of his right eardrum. Even so, neither the provincial nor the municipal court accepted the complaints. According to information from the Attorney General's Office, he would have been transferred to the Delegation of the Ministry of Interior, but Quiñones in reality was interrogated at the same offices where his aggressors worked.

"They didn't admit the evidence I presented about the injuries they caused me with that beating. They say they were self-inflicted injuries," Quiñones told the CubaNet newspaper site, where he has been a ongoing contributor for 12 years. The 62-year-old journalist reported that he refused to pay a fine that would have stopped his trial, arguing that it would imply admitting responsibility for the accusation.

On August 7, the Provincial Court of Guantanamo notified Quiñones about the conviction of one year in prison for the crime of resistance and disobedience. The journalist said that he is appealing so that Provincial Court of Guantanamo accepts the evidence that the Municipal Court would have rejected. While the appeal process goes on, Quiñones must remain at his house and is banned from leaving the Guantanamo province or carrying out any type of immigration process.

So far in 2019, this Office has monitored the increase in acts of intimidation and harassment against activists, human rights defenders, and independent journalists so that, through punishment or intimidation, they refrain from exercising their right to comment express, associate, and meet peacefully.

In the Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recommended that the State ends the practice of harassment in the shortest possible time, including citations, detentions of any duration, and harassment of any person for reasons related to the exercise of their freedom of expression, freedom of association, assembly, or other related freedoms.

"The State must stop the harassment and criminalization of journalistic activity in Cuba and ensure that a pluralistic journalism independent form State media can flourish," said country Commissioner and Rapporteur Antonia Urrejola.

For his part, the Special Rapporteur Edison Lanza recalled that the existing legal framework in Cuba puts independent journalists in a situation of illegality due to the fact that they do not belong to the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC), and maintain a critical stance against the Government. Based on this, he emphasizes that the repression of independent journalists in Cuba constitutes a systematic and prolonged practice.

Likewise, this Office urges the State of Cuba to adopt adequate prevention mechanisms to prevent violence against journalists, including publicly condemning any act of aggression and training public officials, especially police and security forces. It also urges the State to carry out serious, impartial, and effective investigations into the aggressions, threats, and acts of intimidation committed against journalists and social media workers.

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.