Cubalex, 1 November 2019 — One day before the 1st of May march in Havana, the reporter from the independent daily 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, was confronted by a State Security official to stop her attending the workers’ procession. The agent of the Cuba political police warned her she could be detained if she went to the Plaza of the Revolution
She had received similar threats the day before a “kiss-in” organised by LGTBI+ groups in support of same-sex marriage, and, on the morning of April 7th, when an animal rights march was organised in the capital.
Luz managed to report both of these events without the threats coming to anything, but in the afternoon of May 8th she was arrested by the national police. From a homeless refuge in Boyeros, where they found her, she was taken in an official car to the military base. Five hours later they let her go.
Later in that month, on May 22nd, they prevented Escobar from flying to Washington to take part in Independent Art and Journalism workshops, organised by the Cuban Soul Foundation. In the Jose Marti international airport, she was informed by the immigration officials that she couldn’t travel because she was subject to an investigation. As of today they are continuing to prohibit her from leaving.
These attacks on the 14ymedio reporter took place in the context of a wave of repression mounted against the independent press in recent months in Cuba. Up to June 2019, the APLP (Asociacion Pro Libertad de Prensa – Association for Freedom of the Press) has received 54 reports of aggression against independent reporters, 11 of them women. And they have blocked access to three new unofficial press media.
As part of these aggressions, the reporters are intimidated, their houses broken into, their homes kept under observation, they are pestered while walking down the street, and their means of work seized. Another usual harassment tactic in most cases is arbitrary detention for several hours. Although, at the end of March, the Cubanet reporter Roberto Quinones, passed five days in prison in the east of the country, for trying to cover the imprisonment of two pastors who wanted to educated their children at home. Resulting from this detention, today Quinones has completed a year of being locked up accused of resistence and disobedience.
As well as this coercion, they add in prohibitions on leaving the country for random periods of time. At least 196 Cubans have protested against their status as “regulated persons” up to the end of September. This is the category used by the government to limit the mobility of specific individuals after eliminating the white card, or exit visa, in 2013.
The reporters are a group who are most restricted in their movements. In June, for example, the journalists Ileana Colas and Maricel Napoles were not allowed to travel to take part in the General Assembly of the OEA (Organisation of American States). At Havana Airport they were told that they were “regulated persons.” Now, 60% of the reporters subject to these restrictions are women, according to APLP information.
The Cuba Regional Vice President of the SIP (InterAmerican Press Society) Commision for Freedom of the Press and Information, Henry Constantin, in his penultimate report, pointed out that, although it is men who are detained most frequently and for longest, it is the women who are sanctioned for longest, especially those with children: “Karina Galvez — economic analyst and member of the editorial council of the Convivencia magazine — is serving a sentence of three years for a trumped-up charge, which forbids her to leave her town and requires her to carry out humiliating work in order to not be sent to jail,” states Constantin.
These intimidations of reporters, in the midst of a society which is beginning to get computerised, also happens in the digital sphere. Several independent communicators are victims of different defamatory cyber campaigns. In the month of June, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, denounced hate and misogynous messages from public officials in the social media.
Independent female journalists on the island suffer distinct types of gender-related violence which men are generally not subject to. Female reporters, for example, have denounced sexual harrassment and compulsory stripping and having to squat down in the middle of the interrogations. They have also suffered mistreatment in their homes at the hands of State Security collaborators, with offensive notices stuck on the outside of their houses.
The main threats against them focus on their families, especially their young children. Dismissing their security guard or care arrangements, depriving them of their liberty, are the most frequent.
Adriana Zamora, a journalist with Diario de Cuba, received threats against her life and that of her baby while she was pregnant. Now she is in exile, a decision which at least 7 journalists monitored by Cubalex have been forced to take this year. Another 3 are inactive.
Elderly family members, or those in poor health who are dependent on medical assistance are also on the receiving end of threats. Those who are mothers or carers are vulnerable.
Translated by GH