14ymedio, Havana, 19 August 2021 — The Government is up in arms against the criticism raised by Decree-Law 35, which is intended to penalize false news in Cuba, its dissemination and the publication of “offensive messages or defamations that harm the prestige of the country”. The slogan now is to allege that there are countries with similar norms, but for the comparison they have chosen the wrong example.
Miguel Díaz-Canel has retweeted a user’s message stating, “They brand the Decree 35 in Cuba as an ’attack on human rights’, for things that operate in practically all countries: the fight against disinformation and cyberbullies. Its equivalent, the Action Plan against Disinformation has existed in the European Union since 2018.”
The president introduced the tweet with the message: “Sovereign Cuba says it, and honest experts from all over the world confirm it: our Legal Decree 35 is against disinformation and cyber-lying.”
The “expert” is Carlos González Penalva, who defines himself as a “stoic communist, philosophical rationalist” and head of Communication of the United Left in Gijón (Asturias). Far from being an expert in the field, the curriculum of Díaz-Canel’s referent indicates that he began his studies in philosophy. The rest are from courses and congresses, most of them events in Cuba.
But the problem is not the source, but the content. González cites the Action Plan Against Disinformation that has existed in the European Union since 2018 as “equivalent,” but any resemblance between the two is purely coincidental.
The plan was approved on the occasion of the 2019 elections to the European Parliament and the holding of up to 50 electoral processes of different ranks in the member states. According to the text, its fundamental objective is to prevent interference by other countries in these and future elections, and it cites Russia, having documented its attempted interference on previous occasions.
“According to the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell, disinformation by the Russian Federation22 poses the greatest threat to the EU. It is systematic, well-resourced, and on a different scale to other countries,” it quotes in the text.
In the text, the EU urges the Member States to strengthen their national legislation to the same end and to link up to the European system. As far as disinformation is concerned, the plan foresees that the platforms ensure the control of political advertising, close false accounts and detect fake bots in order to eliminate them.
The text re-emphasizes that the recommendations “are part of a package of measures designed to ensure free and fair European elections (…). The work of an independent media is essential to the functioning of a democratic society,” it adds.
Finally, the document calls on the States to promote literacy in disinformation to the general public, as well as the creation of expert bodies in this field. In no case does it have, as in the Cuban decree, the rank of law nor, therefore, the capacity to sanction. Therefore, it does not work as an example.
In previous days, Cuban authorities have cited other European examples, such as that of France. The French law was born specifically from the EU Plan and was approved in 2018 with this intended purpose: to curb the dissemination of false information.
It was very controversial in their country among the opposition and press associations, which denounced the censorship mechanism that could involve the right to be able to remove “any assertion or imputation of an inaccurate or misleading fact”. The law provides for penalties of up to one year’s imprisonment in the most serious cases (cyberterrorism), but its approval required agreement on an amendment specifying that in order to take serious measures, such as blocking a web page, it must be considered proven that it was done “deliberately” and not only “in bad faith.”
Moreover, before reaching this point, the judge must determine, within a period of 48 hours, whether such false information has been disseminated “artificially or automatically” and “massively.” The intervention of a judge is decisive in the French regulation as well as in the German one (also cited by the Cuban authorities) and the Spanish one, which has not yet been approved due to the parliamentary traffic jam resulting from the pandemic. All these countries have separation of powers and the judiciary acts independently of the government.
The clearest example of this is that the French government itself was affected by its law. The Executive launched a campaign through Twitter to urge the population to exercise their right to vote in the European elections, which was deflated when the social network penalized it with its algorithm, considering that it was massive electoral propaganda lacking transparency (neither the funds nor the sender had been credited).
The governments of European countries that have tried to adopt rules following EU guidelines have all been the target of criticism from the opposition, because the fear of abuse exists and, in fact, there are cases in which people have been brought to trial for offenses expressed on social networks. But most of them are solved with an administrative fine and always depend on the courts, outside the governments.
The Cuban government has not yet specified the sanctions that will result from the violation of the rules of Legal Decree 35, but it has made a bad start by trying to match European legislation. In Latin America there are also laws against disinformation in several countries which imply fines, imprisonment and censorship, from the most obvious cases such as Nicaragua or Venezuela, to others such as Chile, which impose prison sentences for the “dissemination of false news that disturb the social order or cause panic in the population.” But Cuban authorities have not chosen to make that comparison.
Translated by: Hombre de Paz
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