Freedom of Expression

Press release R280/20

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur express grave concern over the increase in criminalization and harassment of activists, artists, and independent journalists in Cuba


November 23, 2020


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


According to the information received by the Office of the Special Rapporteur, on November 9, artist Denis Solís was detained by the Police after several days of harassment. In the previous weeks, the artist would have tattooed the words "Cambio Cuba Libre" on his torso, sharing it on his social networks and declaring his disagreement with the regime's policies. In this context, a few days before his arrest, the Police reportedly entered Denis Solís' home without his consent or a court order. The artist would have recorded the discussion he had with the police officer and then spread it on his networks.


According to information from the media, on November 11, the activist was tried by the Municipal Court of Old Havana, which sentenced him to 8 months in prison for the alleged commission of the crime of "contempt" (desacato), a decision that was confirmed by the Provincial Court of Havana.


On November 10, members of the San Isidro Movement, of which Denis Solís is a part, reportedly filed a writ of habeas corpus before the Provincial Court of Havana to request his release. On November 13, art curator and teacher Anamely Ramos approached the police station in Cuba and Chacón to find out about Denis's situation. There, an officer indicated without further detail that a trial for contempt had already been carried out and, after the conviction, his transfer to the Valle Grande prison had been ordered, where the activist was "awaiting the res judicata of the judgment handed down against him ".


In a public statement, the San Isidro Movement denounced the accelerated and secret process against the activist. There they stated that in a period of only three days, Denis Solís was violently arrested without charge, transferred to three police and prison institutions, and processed "for a fabricated cause", all without being allowed any type of telephone communication.


Likewise, as reported to the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur, since November 16, State Security officials in civilian clothes would have besieged and cordoned off the block of the San Isidro Movement headquarters in Old Havana. Inside the building there would be more than 15 artists, activists, and independent journalists summoned to a poetry reading to demand the release of the artist and member of the opposition. In this context, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur received with special concern the information about the interception of Daylys Bandera Rodríguez, a neighbor who supplied them with food, which led to the declaration of a hunger and thirst strike by some of the activists present in the act, which is still ongoing. Anamely Ramos noted that the decision to remain on a hunger strike will be in place until Denis is released. On November 22, in the framework of a demonstration in support of the San Isidro Movement, at least fifteen people, including activists and journalists, were detained by the authorities. Among them was the 14yMedio journalist Luz Escobar, who was broadcasting live the demonstration from Havana's Central Park. In this context, two women wearing the Ministry of the Interior uniform approached her and asked her to "accompany them to the corner" to which the journalist replied that she was not breaking the law. A few seconds later the transmission was cut off when she was detained. The reporter was released around 7 pm, after about four hours in detention.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have also observed with concern the selective use of Decree-Law 370 on the computerization of society in Cuba in order to prosecute and criminalize a significant number of people for critical expressions, in many cases related to COVID-19. This norm has been widely criticized and rejected by Cuban civil society. In April, a group of journalists, artists, and activists signed a "Declaration against the Azote Law" in which they warned that the law criminalizes acts of informing, giving opinions, and expressions freely. In June, a group of 64 people signed a petition addressed to the National Assembly, the Council of State, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General's, Office and the President of the Republic to declare Decree Law 370 unconstitutional, which received the support of non-governmental organizations and the media abroad.

As noted in the Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba, the improper use of criminal law as a mechanism for subsequent liability to the detriment of those who express opinions, information, or any type of criticism on issues of public interest, or who refer to authorities or government officials, is a widespread practice in Cuba and has been in place for several decades. On this point, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have repeatedly argued that the use of criminal law to punish expressions referring to public officials or on matters of public interest violates Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights on the right to freedom of expression. Likewise, they have emphasized that criminalization in these cases not only constitutes a direct limitation to freedom of expression, but can also be considered an indirect method due to its chilling effect on the free flow of ideas on matters of public interest.

In addition, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur stated in said report that state agents are the main source of threats and attacks against the press in the country, a practice that should be discontinued and punished. On this occasion, they also recommended that the State put an end in the shortest term to the practice of harassment for reasons related to the exercise of their freedom of expression, freedom of association, assembly, or other related causes.

Likewise, it is recalled that principle 11 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR establishes that "[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."

In this way, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur insist on the recommendations made to the Cuban State in the aforementioned report with regard to putting an end in the shortest term to the practice of harassment of independent activists, artists, and journalists exercising their right to freedom of expression.

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.