Freedom of Expression

Press release R125/23

The SRFOE expresses its concern about new Social Communication Law in Cuba

June 16th, 2023

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 approval of the Social Communication Law in Cuba, which contravenes international human rights standards and intensifies censorship. This Office reiterates its call to the State to respect the right to freedom of expression and guarantee its full exercise through the adaptation of its internal norms.

According to public information, on May 25th, the National Assembly of People's Power of Cuba approved the Social Communication Law, whose purpose is to regulate the Social Communication System and establish the principles of organization and operation for all social communication media in the country. In the framework of the extraordinary session in which the project was approved,  the president of Cuba stressed that the norm regulates "one of the areas of greatest attack against Cuba," and "in a context of intense media war." The president affirmed that the norm has "a preventive approach to subversion" and that "it is fundamentally up to Social Communication to contribute to the construction of the country's image in correspondence with the attributes that identify the nation and the reality we live in."

According to reports from civil society organizations, the law could accentuate and increase existing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in Cuba. In particular, the Office of the Special Rapporteur observes that the law limits the generation and dissemination of content – both online  and offline – that is protected by international human rights law, through the imposition of arbitrary prior conditions. Thus, for example, article 13.1 establishes the requirements that the contents must meet to be valid, such as being "verified, contextualized and contrasted as a guarantee of veracity", "attached to ethics and responsibility", aimed at "promoting peace, inclusion, decency and social coexistence" and "protecting honor, identity and individual and family privacy". In addition, it prohibits the creation and dissemination of content that aims to "subvert the constitutional order and destabilize the socialist State of law and social justice", "sustain the communicational aggression that develops against the country", "give morbid treatment"  to accidents  or  criminal acts, "defame, slander or insult the persons, organs, agencies and entities of the State,  political, mass and social organizations of the country" or to "appeal to fear, superstition or arouse aggressive behavior that favors cruelty (...)  and the destruction of cultural, patrimonial or natural property". It also prohibits "the use of content elaborated from existing images, texts, audios and videos, to create false realities for any purpose or purpose" (art. 51(i).

Likewise, the Special Rapporteur´s Office warns that the law severely restricts the exercise of freedom of the press by imposing certain duties on journalists and social communicators that are excessive, discretionary and contrary to the very nature of journalistic work. For example, "to inform with immediacy, coherence, precision and attachment to the truth" and "not to make journalistic collaboration or other editorial contribution to social media whose contents contravene the Constitution, this Law and other normative provisions" (art. 36).

This Office has held on numerous occasions that all forms of speech are protected by the right to freedom of expression, regardless of their content and the greater or lesser social and state acceptance they have. This general presumption of coverage of any expressive discourse is explained by the primary obligation of neutrality of the State vis-à-vis the content and, as a consequence, by the need to ensure that, in principle, there are no persons, groups, ideas or means of expression excluded a priori from public debate.

Likewise, the Office of the Rapporteur recalls that freedom of expression is a fundamental right whose exercise cannot be restricted or conditioned to the fulfillment of prerequisites of any nature, since otherwise it would imply limiting the free flow of information, opinions, and ideas that societies need to strengthen public debate. In this sense, the prior conditions imposed by the State, such as truthfulness, timeliness or impartiality, are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur particularly considers risks to the imposition of a duty of "adherence to the truth" by the press because, in practice, it can be used in a discretionary manner to sanction any information that is not considered akin to the official narrative of the authorities.  

On the other hand, similar to what happens with the Constitution and other internal norms, the new law makes the exercise of freedom of expression subject to adherence to socialist values, integrity and sovereignty of the homeland, which provides the State with the basis for the repression of freedom of expression.  as the SRFOE pointed out in its Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba. Article 27 states that the media fulfill the purpose of informing "in accordance with the purposes of socialist society" and "mobilize social action for the defense of the interests of the people." In its 1998 annual report on Cuba, the IACHR held that the exercise of fundamental freedoms cannot be conditioned on the political ideas of a party or on the absolute control of state power. In this regard, he said that "the Cuban political system continues to grant an exclusive and exclusive preponderance to the Communist Party, which in fact constitutes a force superior to the State itself, which prevents the existence of a healthy ideological and party pluralism, which is one of the bases of the democratic system of government."

Finally, the Office of the Rapporteur is concerned that the law deepens the situation of illegality of independent journalism, since it prohibits the legal creation of non-state entities whose corporate purpose is the management of a media outlet (Article 29.4). In this way, and in line with the current legal framework, the Cuban State limits the right of association for journalistic purposes of a private nature.

In view of the foregoing considerations, this Office reiterates its call to the State to adapt the legal framework to international standards on freedom of expression, and to respect and guarantee this right without prior conditions. It also calls on the authorities to allow openness to international scrutiny, and to undertake efforts to establish a broad, plural, and diverse dialogue to find peaceful solutions to the challenges facing the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.