CubaBrief: Cuban Influencers and former prisoner of conscience targeted by secret police. Freedom House and Amnesty updates on human rights in Cuba

Facebook and YouTube influencers, critical of the government, are being rounded up, detained, subjected to interrogations by the secret police in Cuba, and face harsh prison sentences.

​ Sulmira Martínez Pérez (left) and her mom Norma Pérez (right). (Facebook)

Sulmira Martínez Pérez, 21 years old, and a Facebook influencer has been detained by Cuba’s secret police since January 10, 2023 for “propaganda against the constitutional order.” She is known as “Salem” on her Facebook page where she expresses herself against the existing Cuban dictatorship. “First she was at 100 y Aldabó [detention center in Havana] and then they transferred her to Villa Marista [State Security headquarters],” details her mother, Norma Pérez, who revealed that during her daughter’s arrest that her home was the subject of a police search: “They seized our computer, our telephone, and they took away our Internet connection through Nauta.”

Hildina Nuñez Diaz, age 24, is a Youtube influencer who is speaking candidly of the reality Cubans are living on the island, and the Cuban government seeks to silence her, and has barred her husband, Jesus Reyna, working abroad from returning to the island citing that he is “a bad influence,” reports The New York Sun. On March 9, 2023 approximately 30 agents stormed into her home in Santiago de Cuba and arrested her in front of her five-month-old son, Liam Jesus, her mother, and her father. During the arrest, the officials confiscated her cellphone, computer, wifi router, and camera.  They blocked off her neighborhood so that there would be no one passing by. 

Former prisoners of conscience are being subjected to constant harassment that drove one activist to sow his mouth closed and initiate a hunger strike.

On February 14, 2023 state security officials detained former prisoner of conscience Josiel Guía Piloto in his home in Havana. At the time of his detention, he was hunger striking in protest over his constant harassment and surveillance. A day earlier he had sown his mouth shut in protest, and announced his intention to start a hunger strike in protest of his ill treatment by regime officials. Amnesty International issued an urgent action, and is calling “on the authorities to provide the reasons for Josiel Guía Piloto’s detention, to grant him access to a lawyer of his choosing, and to ensure he is not tortured or ill-treated while in detention.” He previously served a five-year prison sentence for “public disorder” and “contempt” for speaking negatively about Fidel Castro on December 1, 2016 following the dictator’s death on November 25, 2016. 

Josiel Guía Piloto sowed his lips shut in protest on February 13, 2023.

Cuba’s new and more draconian Penal Code, which was announced in February 2022, approved on May 15, 2022, and came into force on December 1, 2022. Amnesty International on December 2, 2022 reported on its severity calling it “a chilling prospect for 2023,” highlighting the expansion of the death penalty to 23 crimes, and punishing expression for even longer prison sentences.

“In a context where the judiciary continues to be neither independent nor impartial and allows criminal proceedings to be brought against those critical of the government as a mechanism to prevent, deter or punish them from expressing such views, this could result in human rights activists or critical actors being imprisoned for even longer periods of time.” 

Freedom House in their 2023 World Report chapter on Cuba finds that “the regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2021 that included the introduction of a new constitution.”

This is why it is important to hold the Cuban dictatorship accountable., and to highlight its crimes. Claudia Morales, of FIU’s South Florida Media Network reported on March 13, 2023 that “a piece of legislation introduced by a group of bipartisan senators in June [2022] aims to rename the street in front of the Cuban embassy in the nation’s capital after Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban civic leader and democracy activist who was killed in a car crash orchestrated by the Cuban government in 2012.”

 

The New York Sun, March 15, 2023

Foreign

Cuba Arrests a 24-Year-Old YouTuber for Describing Daily Life on the Communist Island

Hildina Nuñez Diaz is now confined to her home, bereft of her equipment for broadcasting.

CLARA PREVE-DURRIEU

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Hildina Nuñez Diaz

Fines for defaming the government; threats regarding her child; confiscation of property: These are only some of the things that a Cuban woman has been enduring for covering on YouTube the ongoing crisis in Cuba.

The Cuban regime seems intent on ensuring that 24-year-old Hildina Nuñez Diaz does not post another video. On Thursday, government officials arrested Ms. Nuñez Diaz in her home, leaving the Cuban fearing for her life and uncertain about her future.

About 30 agents stormed into Ms. Nuñez Diaz’s home at Santiago de Cuba and arrested her in front of her five-month-old son, Liam Jesus, her mother, and her father. During the arrest, the officials confiscated all technological devices, including her cellphone, computer, wifi router, and camera. 

“When the police arrived at her house, they closed the block so nobody could walk by,” Ms. Nuñez Diaz’s husband, Jesus Reyna, tells the Sun. “They removed her from her own house as if she was a criminal.” Mr. Reyna was working in Texas at the time of the arrest.

Ms. Nuñez Diaz was held at Santiago de Cuba’s police station for seven hours. According to Mr. Reyna, she was passed along to several government officials, who threatened her physical safety and her son’s custody.

“They never told her what her rights were while arrested,” Mr. Reyna says. “She wasn’t even given the right to a lawyer.”

Before releasing her, the officials forced Ms. Nuñez Diaz to sign a consent saying she would no longer post videos. She also received a fine for “taking over social media to discredit the government.” In addition, she was told that she is not allowed to leave Cuba and that Mr. Reyna could not re-enter the island, as they claim he “influenced” her into making those videos. 

Ms. Nuñez Diaz opened her YouTube account in 2020 and since then has been posting videos of the daily struggle that Cubans face on the island. The account has 114,000 subscribers. 

The dangers one witnesses at night in Cuba, the consequences of the shortage of basic products such as rice and sugar, and how a Cuban can easily spend a monthly salary on vegetables are only some of the many realities of the island that she illuminates on YouTube.

“I want to show you Cuba’s reality, the one that many are afraid to tell but it’s time for the world to know the true situation in which Cubans live today,” Ms. Nuñez Diaz says in one of her YouTube videos. She says that she “loves” her country, but it “hurts to see it like this.”

“Hopefully one day we Cubans will see that light that we so much need at the end of the tunnel,” Ms. Nuñez Diaz adds. The executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, John Suarez, tells the Sun that Ms. Nuñez Diaz “faces great danger in Cuba.” 

“Cuba’s penal code has grown more draconian and is targeting individuals expressing themselves in any way that portrays the Cuban government in a negative light,” Mr. Suarez says.

According to Cuba’s penal code, anyone who provides information to international foreign services against the Cuban regime “incurs a penalty of deprivation of liberty from 10 to 30 years, life imprisonment, or death.”

On May 15, 2022, the Castro regime passed a bill that restricts free expression by prohibiting Cubans from receiving foreign funding. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the bill, as the Cuban press has often relied on international funding. 

The following day, the Biden administration announced it was easing sanctions against Cuba. What Ms. Nuñez Diaz has undergone “is happening, and has happened before,” Mr. Suarez says. “International leaders need to condemn it and keep drawing attention to this outrage.”

Ms. Nuñez Diaz earlier had received several threats from the regime. In December, she received a call from the university where she works as a professor, telling her to go into the directives office for a check-in meeting.

Instead, she was greeted by officials from the Castro regime, who threatened her job if she did not stop making videos. They said the videos were “against the road to revolution” of the Cuban communist president, Fidel Castro.

The second encounter occurred in February at Havana, where Ms. Nuñez Diaz was recording a video. A policeman, who had been following her for weeks, entered her home and told her that if she did not stop recording, she would be arrested.

“They told me to double think my actions as I am a mother of a child,” Ms. Nuñez Diaz said in a video in which she told her followers about the confrontation. 

Ms. Nuñez Diaz is now at her house at Santiago de Cuba with no form of communication. She is prohibited from leaving the island and is in a psychologically ill state of mind, suffering from “severe” anxiety over what the regime holds for her future, Mr. Reyna says.

https://www.nysun.com/article/cuba-arrests-a-24-year-old-youtuber-for-describing-daily-life-on-the-communist-island

South Florida Media Network, March 13, 2023

Reps push for bill to rename Cuban embassy street after democracy leader (includes video story)

By Claudia Morales

March 13, 2023

A piece of legislation introduced by a group of bipartisan senators in June last year aims to rename the street in front of the Cuban embassy in the nation’s capital after Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban civic leader and democracy activist who was killed in a car crash orchestrated by the Cuban government in 2012. 

According to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, this could send a powerful message to the Cuban dictatorship and the world.

“Members of the Cuban government who deal with the embassy would have to acknowledge that Payá existed and that this hero who was wrongfully murdered was real,” Cruz told the plenary session of the U.S. Senate last week. “They would have to say his name.”

At a young age, Payá manifested his opposition to the Castro dictatorship. Despite the constant intimidation and harassment from the Cuban regime, Payá led the Varela Project, a referendum that promoted democracy and freedom of speech and religion. He collected approximately 25,000 signatures from Cuban citizens who wanted a change of government on the island.

“The world has been exposed to the Cuban Communist propaganda but not so to the Cuban reality”, said Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria. “This is very important because it’s a sign to stop the impunity of the Cuban regime. We’re talking right now and there are more than one thousand political prisoners in Cuba. There have been more than 3000 public protests in the last year and the only reaction of the Cuban regime has been violence, repression and jail.”

In a letter sent to the Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, senators urged the release of the details of Paya’s murder. After almost ten years, the Payá family along with lawyers from the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center filed a lawsuit, and now they hope to finally get an answer. 

Claudia Morales is a junior FIU student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Digital Communications/Broadcasting. She obtained an associates degree in Mass Communications/Journalism from Miami Dade College. She served as a photographer for The Reporter, the student newspaper at Miami Dade College. She also studied abroad in France and Italy, where she acquired knowledge about globalized media.

https://sfmn.fiu.edu/cuba-human-rights-oswaldo-paya-ted-cruz/

Freedom House, March 9, 2023

Overview

Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2021 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments 2022

  • Government repression against activists, political opponents, and those who took part in the 2021 social protests continued throughout the year.

  • The country’s economic crisis deepened with growing inflation during the year, resulting in food shortages and frequent power cuts that triggered popular protests in the summer and fall. Many protests were characterized by violent state repression against demonstrators; a number of protesters were detained, and some have been criminally charged for participating in the demonstrations.

  • A national referendum on a new family code passed in September with 67 percent of the vote, recognizing same-sex marriage and the right of same-sex couples to adopt or be beneficiaries of assisted reproduction techniques.

  • A new penal code was approved in May and entered into force in December. Among other things, it criminalizes the receipt of foreign financing to carry out activism and increases the minimum penalties for charges typically used to suppress dissent, such as “public disorder.”

https://freedomhouse.org/country/cuba/freedom-world/2023


Amnesty International,  February 17, 2023

Urgent actions

Cuba: Ex Prisoner Of Conscience Detained

Josiel Guía Piloto

On 14 February, according to information currently available to Amnesty International, state security officials detained former prisoner of conscience Josiel Guía Piloto in his home in Havana. At the time of his detention, he was hunger striking in protest over his constant harassment and surveillance. We call on the authorities to provide the reasons for Josiel Guía Piloto’s detention, to grant him access to a lawyer of his choosing, and to ensure he is not tortured or ill-treated while in detention.

TAKE ACTION

Josiel Guía Piloto is a member of the Republican Party of Cuba and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. He previously served a five-year sentence for “public disorder” and “contempt” for allegedly having criticized former President Fidel Castro on 1 December 2016. 

On 11 June 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures to respect and protect his rights to health, life and physical integrity. In February 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also called his previous detention in 2016 “arbitrary” and called for his release.  

According to information currently available to Amnesty International, prior to his most recent detention on 14 February 2023, Josiel Guía Piloto reported that state security officials had detained him for approximately two hours on 10 February 2023 and threatened to charge him with “disobedience” if he did not report to them twice a month.  

At the time of his most recent detention, he was hunger striking in protest over these requirements, information which became public through various media reports on 14 February 2023.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/urgent-actions/cuba-ex-prisoner-conscience-detained