CubaBrief: Int’l press and human rights orgs reporting on political show trials and repression in Cuba. EFE agency president considers leaving Cuba due to restrictions

“Cubans facing sham trials has grown to 200+. Political prisoners held in horrendous conditions across the island looking at sentences up to 30 yrs.” – Amb Brian A. Nichols, Asst Sec for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Family members and human rights activists are campaigning for international news bureaus in the island to cover the political show trials in Cuba. Over the past two days, EFE, Reuters, AFP, and AP finally reported on the proceedings underway in Cuba, but with the hedging and qualifications necessary to remain on the island. All these bureaus when they address the issue of violence fail to mention that it was regime officials and agents that initiated the violence, and were responsible for bullet wounds, beatings, and shooting a protester in the back. Over 200 Cubans have been subjected to political show trials between December 13, 2021 and January 14, 2022. Today, Ambassador Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted a map highlighting where the trials were taking place across Cuba.

Efe Agency President Gabriela Cañas

EFE, the Spanish news agency, that has been at the forefront of reporting on events on the island, continues to be targeted. On January 12, Efe Agency President Gabriela Cañas “said the multimedia news agency was mulling pulling out of Cuba after its journalists reported the government was attempting to “kick them out” by withdrawing their press accreditations.

…”We are beginning to consider our presence on the island. We cannot exercise journalism freely,” the president lamented. Despite the agency having no interest in leaving Cuba, the president said it may be necessary to “report from abroad.” Cañas added that the situation with the Cuban government had not been resolved despite diplomatic efforts from Madrid. This summer seven journalists were working in Havana, but now only two — an editor and a cameraman — have press accreditation.

This is how the regime deals with international journalists, but Cuban citizen journalists catching a protest on their telephone camera are subjected to more draconian measures. Agence France Presse reported on the plight of one Cuban family. On July 11, 2021 Exeynt Beirut, age 41, was detained in Guantanamo, Cuba on the first day of anti-government protests.

“When they learned about his fate, Exeynt’s father Fredy, 64, and sister Katia, 36, took to the streets of La Guinera, near their home in Havana, with hundreds of other protesters the following day. The protest in La Guinera was the most violent of the two-day uprising, and claimed its only recorded death. Fredy Beirut’s ex-wife, 59-year-old Zoila Rodriguez, said he was arrested the same day, on his way home by motorcycle. Seven days later, the security forces called in Katia, who reported believing she had nothing to fear. Instead, she was accused by prosecutors of having filmed the events on her mobile phone in order to publish and encourage others to rebel, according to the charge sheet AFP has seen. With 158 others, the father and daughter were charged with sedition, according to the Cubalex rights group. After months in pre-trial detention, both were sentenced, two days before Christmas, to 20 years’ imprisonment. “When my daughter’s father comes out (of prison), he won’t come out alive, he is 64 years old,” Rodriguez told AFP at her home in Havana. Exeynt Beirut was given a four-year sentence in a separate trial for public disorder.

Exeynt, who took part in the protests was sentenced to four years in prison, and his father and sister who filmed the protests were sentenced to 20 years in prison.  There are other similar cases. German tourist and dual citizen, Luis Frómeta Compte, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on December 23, 2021 for spontaneously filming a demonstration in Havana for private purposes with his smartphone while visiting relatives and was subsequently arrested.  Two messages are being sent. Do not go out into the street to protest, and do not dare to film protests that erupt around you.

Zoila Rodriguez with a photo of her ex-husband Fredy Beirut and their children Exeynt and Katia, all three of whom are in prison for having participated in unprecedented anti-government protests Cuba in July 2021 YAMIL LAGE AFP

The regime has only confirmed one death during the protests, Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, age 36, in La Guinera neighborhood in Havana, but a pro forma investigation would identify at least two others killed by regime agents during the 11J protests, Mario Alberto Ramirez and Licet Andrea were both extrajudicially executed in Santa Clara, Villa Clara, and their families intimidated into silence. Officials are engaged in a campaign of political terror to both silence future outbreaks of dissent, and intimidate anyone thinking of filming anything critical of the regime, thinking twice about it.

“Emilio Roman, 50, told Reuters his two sons Emiyoslan, 18, and Yosney, 25, as well as his 23-year-old daughter, Mackyani, had joined the July protests and now faced 15, 20 and 25 years behind bars, respectively, if convicted. All three have been in jail since mid-July, Roman said. “Everyone went out because of the noise, as if they were going to have a party, but nobody thought they were going to act so severely,” he said. “The number of years (in prison) they are seeking, it’s as if they were terrorists, murderers. They are my only three children,” Roman said, fighting back tears. “It’s a lot of pain.” Another neighbor, Alcides Firdo, 47, said his son, Jaime Alcides Firdo, 22, was initially detained for public disorder after he allegedly threw rocks during the July 12 march, but that the charges were later upgraded to sedition. The state was now seeking to imprison his son for 20 years in a trial slated to begin on Jan. 17, Firdo said in an interview with Reuters. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “You kill a person (in Cuba) and they give you 8, 10, 15 years, and now for throwing a rock you’re going to throw them in jail for … 20 years? That’s an injustice.”

Emiyoslan Román Rodríguez, age 17

Human Rights Watch on January 13, 2022 released their world report that contains a chapter on Cuba and covers the events on July 11th, and the aftermath, including the events surrounding the 15N announced protest. The organization describes regime behavior that includes sexual molestation and threats against a 17-year-old girl.

Over 1,000 people, mostly peaceful demonstrators or bystanders, were detained during the July protests, Cuban rights groups reported. Officers prevented people from protesting or reporting on the protests, arresting critics and journalists as they headed to demonstrations or limiting their ability to leave their homes. Many were held incommunicado for days or weeks, violently arrested or beaten, and subjected to ill-treatment during detention.

Gabriela Zequeira Hernández, a 17-year-old student, was arrested in San Miguel de Padrón, Havana province, as she was walking past a demonstration on July 11. During detention, two female officers made her strip and squat naked five times. One of them told her to inspect her own vagina with her finger. Days later, a male officer threatened to take her and two men to the area known as the “pavilion,” where detainees have conjugal visits. Officers repeatedly woke her up at night for interrogations, asking why she had protested and who was “financing” her. Days later, she was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison for “public disorder,” though she was allowed to serve her sentence in house arrest. She was only permitted to see her private lawyer a few minutes before the hearing.

Gabriela Zequeira Hernández (age 17 )

Reports by both news bureaus, and human rights organizations document civil and political human rights violations, but fail to hold the Castro regime accountable for its internal blockade on Cubans. This oversight can be understood when considering the restrictions news bureaus on the island are subject to, but Human Rights Watch does not repeat the practice with North Korea, Venezuela, or the People’s Republic of China, making an exception with Cuba.

Reuters, January 14, 2021

Americas

In Cuba’s poorest neighborhoods, youths could face decades in jail after protests

People walk under a Cuban flag hanging in downtown Havana, Cuba, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Marc Frank and Mario Fuentes

LA GUINERA, Cuba, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Young Cuban protesters from Havana’s poorest neighborhoods face decades behind bars at upcoming trials, relatives and rights groups said, amid a crackdown on some of those who took part in last year’s unprecedented anti-government demonstrations.

The July 11-12 protests saw thousands take to the streets in towns and cities across the island, many denouncing the communist-run government and shortages of food, medicine and electricity at a time when cases of coronavirus were soaring.

Human rights watchdogs say more than 1,000 people were arrested following the protests. Trials for those accused of serious crimes began in mid-December and some have already led to prison terms of more than 20 years, according to the groups and interviews with families of the accused.

Cuba’s government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on the trials.

Authorities on the island, however, have previously said those arrested were guilty of crimes including public disorder, resisting arrest, robbery and vandalism. Cuba blames the United States for funding the July unrest and fanning it.

In the poor Havana district of La Guinera – where a march on July 12 was followed by vandalism, a confrontation with police and the only death during the unrest – Reuters spoke with more than a dozen residents who said neighborhood youth who joined the rallies now faced stiff prison sentences.

They denied any larger plot against the government and said the decision to march had been spontaneous.

Emilio Roman, 50, told Reuters his two sons Emiyoslan, 18, and Yosney, 25, as well as his 23-year-old daughter, Mackyani, had joined the July protests and now faced 15, 20 and 25 years behind bars, respectively, if convicted. All three have been in jail since mid-July, Roman said.

“Everyone went out because of the noise, as if they were going to have a party, but nobody thought they were going to act so severely,” he said.

“The number of years (in prison) they are seeking, it’s as if they were terrorists, murderers. They are my only three children,” Roman said, fighting back tears. “It’s a lot of pain.”

Another neighbor, Alcides Firdo, 47, said his son, Jaime Alcides Firdo, 22, was initially detained for public disorder after he allegedly threw rocks during the July 12 march, but that the charges were later upgraded to sedition.

The state was now seeking to imprison his son for 20 years in a trial slated to begin on Jan. 17, Firdo said in an interview with Reuters.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “You kill a person (in Cuba) and they give you 8, 10, 15 years, and now for throwing a rock you’re going to throw them in jail for … 20 years? That’s an injustice.”

Reuters could not independently confirm the details of the two cases with authorities as court officials do not routinely speak with the media in Cuba, nor was it possible to contact the defendants.

Laritza Diversent, director of U.S.-based human rights group Cubalex, said Cuban authorities had ratcheted up penalties to make an example and stifle future protests.

“The government is saying, ‘Look, I’m not playing games … if you go out again to protest this could also happen to you,” she said.

Several rights groups, including Cubalex, say penalties for dozens already sentenced including for sedition have ranged from 4 to 30 years behind bars.

Reuters viewed several sentencing documents from trials in December in which penalties ranged from 2 to 8 years in prison for protesters convicted of crimes including disobedience, public disorder and assault. None of the convictions reviewed by Reuters were for sedition, which carries the heaviest penalties.

Not all those who took part in last year’s demonstrations have faced harsh penalties. Cuba recently dropped charges against several artists who protested in front of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute on July 11, according to a Facebook post by historian Leonardo Fernandez Otano.

He said race and poverty had weighed on the process.

“I am grateful,” Fernandez Otano wrote on social media after the charges were dismissed. “But I am also sad, because the young people of La Guinera have not had the same luck and are condemned to unjust and politicized sentences.”

The Cuban government has said it respects the rights of all those detained following the protests, and that the steepest penalties would be reserved for repeat offenders and the most serious crimes.

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/cubas-poorest-neighborhoods-youths-could-face-decades-jail-after-protests-2022-01-14/

Human Rights Watch, January 14, 2022

Human Rights Watch World Report 2022: Cuba

The Cuban government continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism. At the same time, Cubans continue to endure a dire economic crisis, which impacts their social and economic rights.

In July, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in landmark demonstrations protesting long-standing restrictions on rights, scarcity of food and medicines, and the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government responded with brutal repression.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government employs arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others.

Security officers rarely present arrest warrants to justify detaining critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors may use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of what they call “delinquent” behavior.

Over 1,000 people, mostly peaceful demonstrators or bystanders, were detained during the July protests, Cuban rights groups reported. Officers prevented people from protesting or reporting on the protests, arresting critics and journalists as they headed to demonstrations or limiting their ability to leave their homes. Many were held incommunicado for days or weeks, violently arrested or beaten, and subjected to ill-treatment during detention.

Gabriela Zequeira Hernández, a 17-year-old student, was arrested in San Miguel de Padrón, Havana province, as she was walking past a demonstration on July 11. During detention, two female officers made her strip and squat naked five times. One of them told her to inspect her own vagina with her finger. Days later, a male officer threatened to take her and two men to the area known as the “pavilion,” where detainees have conjugal visits. Officers repeatedly woke her up at night for interrogations, asking why she had protested and who was “financing” her. Days later, she was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison for “public disorder,” though she was allowed to serve her sentence in house arrest. She was only permitted to see her private lawyer a few minutes before the hearing.

In October 2021, Cuban authorities said that a demonstration being organized by a group of artists and dissidents for November 15 was “unlawful.” Later that month, the Attorney General’s Office released a statement “warning” people that they would face criminal prosecution if they “insisted” on carrying out a demonstration on November 15.

Cuban officers have also systematically detained independent journalists and artists. Victims include members of the coalitions of artists known as the “San Isidro,” “27N,” and “Archipelago” movements, as well as those involved in “Motherland and Life” — a viral song that repurposes the Cuban government’s old slogan, “Motherland or Death” (Patria o Muerte) and criticizes repression in the country.

In many cases, police and intelligence officers appeared at critics’ homes, ordering them to stay there, often for days or weeks, in what amounted to arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

Officers have repeatedly used regulations designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to harass and imprison government critics.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media in Cuba and restricts access to outside information. 

In February and August 2021, the Cuban government expanded the number of permitted private economic activities, yet independent journalism remained forbidden.  

Journalists, bloggers, social media influencers, artists, and academics who publish information considered critical of the government are routinely subject to harassment, violence, smear campaigns, travel restrictions, internet cuts, online harassment, raids on homes and offices, confiscation of working materials, and arbitrary arrests. They are regularly held incommunicado.

In 2017, Cuba announced it would gradually expand home internet services. In 2019, new regulations allowed importation of routers and other equipment, and creation of private wired and Wi-Fi internet networks in homes and businesses.

Increased access to the internet has enabled many to communicate, report on abuses, and organize protests in ways virtually impossible a few years ago. Some journalists and bloggers manage to publish articles, videos, and news on websites and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Yet the high cost of—and limited access to—the internet prevents all but a small fraction of Cubans from reading independent news websites and blogs.

The government routinely blocks access to many news websites and blogs within Cuba and has repeatedly imposed targeted restrictions on critics’ access to cellphone data. On July 11, 2021, when the protests began, several organizations reported countrywide internet outages, followed by erratic connectivity, including restrictions on social media and messaging platforms.

On August 17, the government published Decree-Law 35/2021 regulating the use of telecommunications. The decree, which states its purpose is to “defend” the Cuban revolution, requires providers to interrupt, suspend, or terminate services when a user publishes information that is “fake” or affects “public morality” and “respect for public order.”

A “cybersecurity” resolution accompanying Decree-Law 35 contains sweeping provisions labeling protected speech—including publications that “incite protests,” “promote social indiscipline,” and “slander that impacts the prestige of the country”—as “incidents of cybersecurity” that authorities are required to “prevent” and “eradicate.”

Pre-existing Decree-Law 370/2018 still prohibits dissemination of information “contrary to the social interest, morals, good manners and integrity of people.” Authorities have used it to interrogate and fine journalists and critics and confiscate their working materials.

Political Prisoners

Prisoners Defenders, a Madrid-based rights group, reported that, as of September, Cuba was holding 251 people who met the definition of political prisoners, as well as 38 others for their political beliefs; another 92 who had been convicted for political beliefs were under house arrest or on conditional release.

Cubans who criticize the government risk criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinate to the executive branch.

Many people who protested peacefully in July were sentenced through “summary” criminal trials that lacked basic due process guarantees, including the right to legal representation. Protesters were often tried for vaguely defined crimes, such as “public disorder” and “contempt.” In August, authorities said 66 people had been convicted in connection with protests; most did not have a lawyer. Some were acquitted on appeal.   

In some cases, authorities sought or imposed disproportionate prison sentences against protesters whom they accused of engaging in violence, often by throwing rocks during protests.

On July 11, officers arrested José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union, the main opposition party, as he was heading to a demonstration. On July 17, a prosecutor sent him to pre-trial detention, charged with “public disorder” for “deciding to join” the demonstrations. In April 2020, Ferrer had been arbitrarily sentenced to four-and-a-half years of “restrictions on freedom,” for alleged “assault.” On August 14, 2021, a Santiago de Cuba court required him to serve 4 years and 14 days in prison, ruling he had failed to “strictly respect the laws” and “have an honest attitude toward work,” legal conditions for people sentenced to “restrictions on freedom.”

Several artists, including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo, both of whom performed in the music video for “Motherland and Life,” remained in pretrial detention, facing arbitrary prosecution, at time of writing.

Travel Restrictions

Since reforms in 2013, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel to and from Cuba have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and bloggers. The reforms, however, gave the government broad discretionary power to restrict travel on grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Authorities continue to selectively deny exit to dissenters.

In March 2021, Cuban authorities denied Karla Pérez, a Cuban journalist studying in Costa Rica, the possibility of returning home. An airline employee informed her during a stopover in Panama City that the Cuban government was refusing her admission. Pérez returned to Costa Rica, where she was granted refugee status.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are often overcrowded. Detainees have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress for abuses. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes or other forms of protest often endure extended solitary confinement, beatings, restriction of family visits, and denial of medical care.

The government continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

In April 2020, to reduce the risk of the Covid-19 virus spreading in prisons, the government suspended family visits. This, coupled with authorities’ refusal to allow detainees to call their families, left many arrested during demonstrations incommunicado for days and, in some cases, weeks.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba violates International Labour Organization standards it has ratified on freedom of association and collective bargaining. While Cuban law allows the formation of independent unions, in practice the government only permits the operation of one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Cuba deploys tens of thousands of health workers abroad every year to help tackle short-term crises and natural disasters. They provide valuable services to many communities but under Cuban rules that violate their rights, including to privacy, liberty, movement, and freedom of expression and association. In 2020, Cuba sent some 4,000 doctors to help nearly 40 countries respond to the Covid-19 pandemic; they joined 28,000 health workers already deployed.

Human Rights Defenders

The government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local rights groups. Authorities have harassed, assaulted, and imprisoned human rights defenders attempting to document abuses.

In August, two officers appeared at the Havana home of the mother of Laritza Diversent, a human rights defender living in the United States, and threatened to prosecute Diversent and seek her extradition to Cuba. Diversent heads Cubalex, one of the main rights groups documenting abuses against people who demonstrated in July.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The 2019 constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people suffer violence and discrimination, particularly in Cuba’s interior.

Early drafts of the constitution approved in February 2019 redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, but the government withdrew that proposal following public protests. The government said it would introduce a reform to the Family Code, which governs marriage, for legislative review and later carry on a referendum. In September 2021, the government made public a draft of the reform, which included a gender-neutral definition of marriage. It had not been approved at time of writing.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Cuba decriminalized abortion in 1965 and remains one of the few Latin American countries with such a policy. The procedure is available and free at public hospitals.

Key International Actors

The US embargo continues to provide the Cuban government with an excuse for problems, a pretext for abuses, and sympathy from governments that might otherwise more rigorously condemn repressive practices in the country.

In June 2021, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the embargo, for the 29th consecutive year; 184 countries supported the resolution, while the US and Israel opposed it, and Brazil, Colombia, and Ukraine abstained.

Under former President Donald Trump, the US government limited peoples’ ability to send remittances to Cuba from the US and imposed new restrictions on travelling to Cuba, banning cruise ship stops, educational trips, and most flights. In January 2021, the Trump administration designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, arguing that it had refused to extradite to Colombia members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) who had travelled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government and stayed there.

In July 2021, the administration of US President Joe Biden condemned Cuban government abuses against protesters and imposed targeted sanctions on several officers credibly linked to repression against demonstrations. However, as of September, the US had not taken significant steps away from the broader policy of isolation that was entrenched during the Trump era and has failed to improve human rights conditions in Cuba.

In February, the European Union held a human rights dialogue with Cuba. EU High Representative Josep Borrell said in July that demonstrations in Cuba “reflect[ed] legitimate grievances.” He expressed concern about government repression and urged Cuba to release all arbitrarily detained protesters. The European Parliament adopted resolutions deploring Cuba’s human rights violations in June and September.

The Lithuanian legislature voted in July to oppose ratification of the EU’s Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba, signed in 2016 but never ratified, because of Lithuania’s human rights concerns.

Since being elected to the UN Human Rights Council in 2020—its fifth term in the past 15 years—Cuba has opposed resolutions spotlighting human rights abuses in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria, and Nicaragua, among other countries.

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/cuba


EFE, January 12, 2022

SPAIN MEDIA

Spanish news agency EFE mulls leaving Cuba over credentials withdrawal

EFE Madrid12 Jan 2022

Efe Agency President Gabriela Cañas said the multimedia news agency was mulling pulling out of Cuba after its journalists reported the government was attempting to “kick them out” by withdrawing their press accreditations.

“They are kicking us out of Cuba. With only two journalists, we cannot keep up with the quality standards that Efe Agency has offered up until now in the country. It’s a great shame,” Cañas said at a breakfast working group in Madrid organized by Nueva Economía.

Due to recent events, Cañas said the company was considering taking measures.

“We are beginning to consider our presence on the island. We cannot exercise journalism freely,” the president lamented.

Despite the agency having no interest in leaving Cuba, the president said it may be necessary to “report from abroad.”

Cañas added that the situation with the Cuban government had not been resolved despite diplomatic efforts from Madrid.

This summer seven journalists were working in Havana, but now only two — an editor and a cameraman — have press accreditation.

The agency began to face obstructions when the Cuban government delayed, without any explanation, the issuing of a press visa for a new correspondent who was appointed in July 2021 and who has not yet been able to enter the country.

In November Cuba’s International Press Center withdrew the press accreditations of all Efe workers in Cuba.

“We ran out of witnesses on the island,” Cañas added.

Hours later, the CPI returned two accreditations to Efe journalists, but since then the situation has stalled.

Havana assured that it would return the accreditations out of “goodwill” in November, but this has yet to happen.

“We have asked them to let us work there a thousand times” to no avail, she said.

Efe Agency, which launched almost five decades ago, covers “almost 50% of the news” published in Latin America about Cuba.

Cañas guessed that it was “perhaps this resonance” that did not sit well with the Cuban government.

Efe’s president also discussed Radio Televisión Española —Spain’s state-owned television and radio broadcaster — and Efe’s intention to join forces on several projects looking to the future.

“RTVE and Efe work well together, they have the technological and audiovisual capacity and we have a broad reach,” Cañas said.

“We have presence in 120 countries, we have around 500 journalists working abroad, so we are very complimentary, so much so that in some delegations, such as in Buenos Aires we already work together.”

As well as collaborating to strengthen both companies’ news coverage, RTVE and Efe will synchronize efforts to forge a pioneering public college of journalism. EFE

https://www.efe.com/efe/english/portada/spanish-news-agency-efe-mulls-leaving-cuba-over-credentials-withdrawal/50000260-4715944

France 24, January 13, 2022

In Cuba, 20-year sentence for filming protest

Zoila Rodriguez with a photo of her ex-husband Fredy Beirut and their children Exeynt and Katia, all three of whom are in prison for having participated in unprecedented anti-government protests Cuba in July 2021 YAMIL LAGE AFP

Havana (AFP) – Three members of the Beirut family spent Christmas behind bars in Cuba, locked away for taking part in unprecedented protests against a communist regime notoriously intolerant of dissent.

They are among hundreds of people detained since July 11, when spontaneous street protests in 50 cities saw thousands of people clamoring for change, chanting “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship” and “We are hungry.”

Now the axe is falling, with sentences of up to 30 years being handed down on charges ranging from public disorder to sedition.

The family’s ordeal started on July 11 when Exeynt Beirut, 41, was detained in Guantanamo in Cuba’s east on the first day of protests against harsh living conditions and government repression.

When they learned about his fate, Exeynt’s father Fredy, 64, and sister Katia, 36, took to the streets of La Guinera, near their home in Havana, with hundreds of other protesters the following day.

The protest in La Guinera was the most violent of the two-day uprising, and claimed its only recorded death.

Fredy Beirut’s ex-wife, 59-year-old Zoila Rodriguez, said he was arrested the same day, on his way home by motorcycle.

Seven days later, the security forces called in Katia, who reported believing she had nothing to fear.

Instead, she was accused by prosecutors of having filmed the events on her mobile phone in order to publish and encourage others to rebel, according to the charge sheet AFP has seen.

With 158 others, the father and daughter were charged with sedition, according to the Cubalex rights group.

The Cuban protests were met by a regime clampdown which elicited global condemnation YAMIL LAGE AFP/File

After months in pre-trial detention, both were sentenced, two days before Christmas, to 20 years’ imprisonment.

“When my daughter’s father comes out (of prison), he won’t come out alive, he is 64 years old,” Rodriguez told AFP at her home in Havana.

Exeynt Beirut was given a four-year sentence in a separate trial for public disorder.

‘Inconceivable’

Cubalex said dozens of people were injured during the protests of July 11 and 12, and 1,355 were detained, of whom 719 remain behind bars.

The revolt was met by a regime clampdown that elicited global condemnation.

Since then, the government has arrested hundreds more in a bid to instill fear and suppress dissent, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.

Many were held without due process and subjected to sham trials, and some tortured, it said.

Protesters overturned police cars during the uprising in Cuba, in July 2021 YAMIL LAGE AFP/File

“My daughter and my husband started (to be tried) for the crime of public disorder, which was changed to sedition,” said Rodriguez, who now splits her time between prison visits and caring for Katia’s nine-year-old son.

“Me, my family, all the people going through this are very angry,” she added.

“It is inconceivable that… in a country where people take to the streets and peacefully demonstrate, they are given 20 years.”

The prosecution accuses Fredy, Katia and others of having shouted “counter-revolutionary slogans” and of using “denigrating phrases against the leadership of the country.”

‘They have ended my life’

Another La Guinera protester, Dayron Martin Rodriguez, 36, was sentenced to 30 years in jail.

According to his mother Esmeralda Rodriguez, 63, he had gone out to buy food for his pigeons, when he ran into a rally.

Rights group Cubalex said dozens of people were injured during the protests of July 11 and 12, 2021, and 1,355 were detained, of whom 719 remain behind bars YAMIL LAGE AFP/File

“He started recording to send his father the video,” she told AFP by telephone from Ecuador, where she now lives.

He was arrested and charged with being part of a crowd that pelted police with stones and bottles.

His mother said Rodriguez told her by telephone that “they have ended my life.” He will be 66 when he gets out.

Cubalex director Laritza Diversent told AFP the harsh sentences were meant to serve as a deterrent.

The legal process has been plagued by violations of due process, she said, without independent defense lawyers and trials held behind closed doors.

“Most of the evidence they have is testimony from the state agents who used violence against the demonstrators,” she said.

None of the videos put into evidence show the police assaults.

Some families are still fighting.

Andy Dunier Garcia Lorenzo, 34, will go on trial this week after his arrest on July 11 in Santa Clara, central Cuba, with prosecutors seeking a sentence of seven years for public disorder.

His family have launched a campaign to collect food for prisoners and are urging accredited embassies in Cuba to send observers to his trial.

Spontaneous street protests in 50 Cuban cities in July 2021 saw thousands of people clamoring for change, chanting ‘Freedom,’ ‘Down with the dictatorship’ and ‘We are hungry’ YAMIL LAGE AFP/File

Cuban officials deny the existence of political prisoners in the country. They consider the opposition to be illegitimate and allege it is financed by the United States.

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220113-in-cuba-20-year-sentence-for-filming-protest