14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 June 2017 — Independent communicators in Cuba are victims of an escalating repression, according to a complaint filed Monday by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid. The alarm sounded by the organization coincides with an increase in complaints from journalists on the island as a result of the government persecutions and obstacles they suffer when exercising their profession.
“Last June 20 Henry Constantín and Sol Garcia, journalists for La Hora de Cuba and contributors to 14ymedio, were not able to participate in an event in Miami because each of them has been indicted for the alleged crime of “‘usurpation of legal capacity’ [that is practicing a profession without a license to do so] and so under Cuban law they are not permitted to travel outside the country,” OCDH reported.
According to the non-governmental organization, the Cuban government had maintained a kind of “moratorium” with regards to repression against independent journalists, but the strategy seems to have changed in recent weeks with actions such as those carried out against Henry Constantin, Sol Garcia Basulto and Manuel Alejandro Leon Velázquez.
Both Constantín and García Basulto have been expressly forbidden to practice journalism on the island and the judicial process opened against them has been criticized from various international forums, including the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).
Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent explained that there are more than 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island
The OCDH also denounced the arrest of journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez, a contributor to Radio Martí and Diario de Cuba . Leon returned from a trip to Spain and has been accused of “usurpation of legal capacity, association to commit a crime and dissemination of false news,” according to the organization.
The accusations against the three communicators are based on Article 149 of the Cuban Penal Code, which punishes those who carry out “acts of a profession for the exercise of which one is not properly qualified.” If they are tried for this offense they could face a sentence of up to one year of deprivation of liberty.
In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish with sites such as El Estornudo, El Toque, Cubanet, CiberCuba, Diario de Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, On Cuba, among others.
In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish
Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent, who recently became a refugee in the United States, explained to 14ymedio via telephone that there are over 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island.
“State Security is looking for different strategies to prosecute all types of dissidents or critics in Cuba,” explained Diversent, president of the legal group Cubalex, who went into exile after a police and State Security operation against her.
“Both illegal economic activity and the usurpation of legal capacity are nothing more than resources to punish any type of activism within the Island. Legal insecurity is very high because both the criminal law and the criminal procedure law have been designed as tools of repression,” said Diversent.
Independent journalist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, who was arrested last October in Guantanamo and suffered the confiscation of his tools of the trade while covering the recovery in Baracoa after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, confirmed the difficulties of practicing the profession on the island.
“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities”
“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities,” he said. On that occasion, a team of correspondents from Periodismo de Barrio suffered the same fate as Gonzalez Vivero.
Other independent publications, such as Convivencia magazine, have been harassed during the last year with the arrest of members of its editorial team and threats by the authorities against its contributors. Foreign correspondent Fernando Ravsberg has been threatened with expulsion from the country and even with “having his teeth broken” for the critical entries he publishes in his personal blog Cartas desde Cuba.
Last year the IAPA emphasized, however, the timid rebellion of some official journalists against the information policy directed from the Communist Party. Among the examples cited by the IAPA was a letter signed by young journalists published by the Villa Clara newspaper Vanguardia, in which they claimed their right to collaborate with other media.
The IAPA also recalled the case of a Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja, expelled from the profession for five years for making public the remarks delivered at a conference where Karina Marrón, deputy editor of the official daily Granma, compared the country’s situation to that of the 1990s when massive protests occurred in Havana, which came to be known as the Maleconazo.