14ymedio/EFE, Havana, May 1, 2020 — The Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos [Cuban Observatory of Human Rights] (OCDH) welcomes the release of 6,579 prisoners announced by the Government this Thursday. “It’s a positive measure in the framework of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the organization, which is based in Madrid.
The President of the Criminal Division of the Cuban Supreme Court, Otto Molina, specified that in March and April, 421 people who complied with pre-trial detention were now freed and awaiting trial at home with the “corresponding restrictions”, while the other 6,158 were granted early release.
In the case of these last, “the Court assessed that with the time served (of the sentence), it’s not necessary to complete the sentence in confinement,” and decided to grant the prisoners conditional freedom and official discharge, Molina explained on State television.
For the OCDH, the release moves “in the direction of the actions of different governments in the region and agrees, partially, with the concerns, demands and proposals presented publicly” by this organization on March 18, 19 and 30.
“It’s important that the Cuban Government continue advancing and immediately free all political prisoners. Presently, more than a hundred political prisoners remain in the country’s jails,” added the Observatory.
“Also, we consider it counterproductive that 335 people were imprisoned in the last few days for violating the conditions of social isolation when the Penal Code itself anticipated other types of sanctions that are less severe,” it concludes.
Since the start of the epidemic on the Island at the beginning of March, the Cuban judicial system began to impose strict sanctions for crimes like “the propagation of epidemics” — including circulating without the obligatory mask — and “attack” against health workers, inspectors and agents of order.
They also have increased persecution and punishment for those who practice “illicit economic activities”, “speculation” and “hoarding”, crimes especially sensitive for a country that suffers from chronic shortages, compounded now by the pandemic.
The President of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court said that they have held 418 trials on the Island for “crimes associated with COVID-19”, and 596 people have been tried with 503 sanctioned. Of the people convicted, 335 received prison sentences because their conduct “attacks the greater good of health, puts the collective security at risk and demands a strong response,” he emphasized.
Several trials have been televised to “set an example”, and the police have permitted State media to accompany agents on raids to capture criminals, who are identified and questioned on camera.
“The procedures are handled with speed, guaranteeing due process and personal rights, but quickly, so the response is prompt, timely,” Molina notes.
Up to now, the Cuban authorities have assured that there are no outbreaks nor cases of Covid-19 in the prisons on the Island, where prevention has been maximized to prevent contagion, and periods of isolation have been established for new inmates.
In spite of the official recommendation to remain at home, several independent journalists and Cuban activists have been summoned recently to present themselves for “interviews” at police stations.
Fines have been imposed on some for presumably having violated Decree Law 370 by publishing on social networks; among other things the decree regulates the use of information technology and communication in the country, but not the exercise of journalism per se.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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