Cuba Extends Internet Censorship and Continues to Harass and Arrest Opponents

Women connecting to the internet through wifi enabled in a park in Jagüey Grande. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2018 – “Unwarranted restrictions” on access to and freedom of expression on the internet have been added to the traditional forms of censorship in Cuba, where the government continues to arbitrarily detain and “harass” people critical of it, according to Amnesty International’s 2017-2018 report.

The document, released on Wednesday, stresses that the extension of censorship to the online environment weakens the country’s progress in education and describes a test by the Open Interference Observatory on the Web which detected 41 websites blocked from the island, all critical of the government and with content addressing human rights or techniques to avoid censorship.

Although Cuba, the only country in the Americas that continues to bar access to Amnesty International, continues to “expand access” to the network and has reduced the price to connect, the cost – one dollar per hour in wifi-enabled parks– is still “prohibitive” for the majority of the population in a country where the average monthly salary is less than 30 dollars.

The organization also stresses that “harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention” of political and human rights activists continues, although the figures are lower than in 2016.

According to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation – the only organization that keeps a full count of these incidents on the Island – in 2017 there were 5,155 arbitrary detentions, compared to 9,940 in 2016.

Among the main targets of the repression, Amnesty International cites the Ladies in White, an organization of women who have relatives being held as political prisoners.

The report notes that Dr. Eduardo Cardet, who replaced the late dissident Osvaldo Payá as head of the Christian Liberation Movement and who is named a prisoner of conscience, is serving a three-year sentence imposed in March for publicly criticizing Fidel Castro.

It also cites, among others, cases such as that of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, who spent two months in prison for writing “He left” on a Havana wall hours after Castro’s death, and that of urban artist Yulier Pérez, “arbitrarily detained after months of intimidation and harassment by the authorities for expressing himself freely through his art.”

“The authorities continued to present false charges for common crimes to harass and detain representatives of the political opposition, which means that there were probably many more prisoners and prisoners of conscience than those documented,” the report said.

The firings for “discriminatory and for political reasons” are also included in the document, which notes that the State is still the largest employer in Cuba and also regulates the incipient private sector, which it uses to “repress even the most subtle criticism,” practices that are reinforced by the absence of independent labor unions.

Despite the thaw with the United States, now reversed by the Donald Trump Administration, the report emphasizes that a high rate of Cuban migration persists, driven by the “exceptionally low” salaries and the “control of free expression.”

This bilateral change in direction also makes the possible lifting of the US embargo on the island less likely and “continues to weaken economic, social and cultural rights.”

Finally, the report’s Cuban chapter notes that in 2017 the first visit to the Island by an independent United Nations expert on human rights took place, although the expert was refuses “access to the whole country, its prisons to the majority of independent human rights organizations.”

Cuba has not ratified either the international Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2008) nor the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.


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