CubaBrief: Death penalty for protesting in Cuba. Fifteen years in prison for live streaming a protest. Eight years in prison for taking a photo of a sign that said “Patria y Vida.”

Senior officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice on the program  ‘We Make Cuba‘ broadcast in April 2024 warned of the legal consequences of those who participate in large scale protests including being charged with “sedition”, “disturbing the socialist constitutional order” with prison sentences ranging between 10 and 30 years, life imprisonment, and in “exceptional cases” the “death penalty.” In Havana’s current penal code brought into force on December 1, 2022 the death penalty was expanded to 24 crimes, which includes “crimes against state security..

Amnesty International Cuban prisoner of conscience Maykel Castillo Pérez, better known as Maykel Osorbo, a rapper and dissident, almost loses part of his left ear. He was attacked in Kilo 5 and Medio prison in Pinar del Río province by several common inmates. This attack was orchestrated by prison officials.

Jose Luis Tan Estrada, journalist, is a prisoner in Villa Marista since the afternoon of April 26, 2024 when he attempted to make a trip from Camagüey to Havana. Tan Estrada’s health condition could worsen since he suffers from several medical conditions. This includes gastric reflux due to a hernia, sores in the esophagus, and irritable bowel syndrome. After being expelled from the University of Camagüey at the end of 2022, where he taught, He began working as an independent journalist, and providing humanitarian assistance to those in need. From then on, he has experienced harassment from State Security in his province, just for denouncing the reality of communist Cuba.  The Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding his release.

Thirteen Cubans have received sentences ranging from 4 to 15 years in prison for nonviolently protesting in the streets.

The trial – which was originally going to take place in December but was postponed – was held in January 2024, in two 12 hour sessions. Only two relatives per detainee were able to access the interior of the room, according to eyewitnesses present who told the EFE newswire.

Fifteen Years in prison for Transmitting a Protest Live in Cuba

Mayelín Rodríguez Prado (age 23), received the longest sentence of 15 years, accused of “continued enemy propaganda” and “sedition.” She was the one who streamed live the popular protests that occurred in Nuevitas and recorded how government agents beat two eleven-year-old girls.  Mayelín was jailed at age 21, and separated from her toddler.

Eight years in prison for taking a photo of a sign that said “Patria y Vida.”

Yennis Artola Del Sol was sentenced to eight years in prison simply for taking a photograph of a sign that said “Patria y Vida.” For this reason, she has been accused of “enemy propaganda of a continuous nature.”

These are not aberrations but a feature of the 65 year old regime currently holding power in Havana.

Cuba has been under the rule of a communist dictatorship dominated by Fidel and Raul Castro over the past 65 years. Currently there are over 1,000 political prisoners in Cuba, with an average age of 32 years old, a majority imprisoned for taking part in nonviolent protests in July of 2021. This dictatorship has taken part in the extrajudicial killings of nonviolent opponents, and also carried out massacres of Cubans fleeing the island to the present day.

The United States has strongly criticized this latest example of political show trials in Cuba.

“The harsh sentencing this week of up to 15 years in prison for Cubans who peacefully assembled in Nuevitas in 2022 is outrageous. The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfill their basic rights and needs is unconscionable.” said  Ambassador Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State over X on.

Why did protests break out in Nuevitas?

Yoani Sanchez in an August 23, 2022 piece republished and translated to English in the Havana TimesWhy the Protests in Nuevitas, Camaguey, Cuba?” explained that “in the 1960s, some guerrillas who had just come to power decided to turn it into the ‘industrial city’ of the country, a Caribbean icon of development and modernity.” According to Yoani, “those who packed their bags in other provinces of Cuba and moved to Nuevitas, believing that if socialism was going to bear its first fruits of prosperity and bonanza somewhere, it would be in that piece of land with the smell of the sea. But the bubble burst at the end of the 1980s, when the Soviet subsidy, essential to maintaining that showcase, began to fade.” …”Those who took to the streets on August 19 were, for the most part, the children of those who were made to believe that this beautiful seaport could only experience better times, evolution and splendor.”

Miami Herald, April 30, 2024

Cuba 

Cuban authorities sentence young mother to 15 years in prison for live streaming protest

By Nora Gámez Torres

April 30, 2024 12:40 PM

A young mother has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for transmitting videos on Facebook of a protest in Cuba, the latest example of the communist government’s heavy-handed policies to crack down on growing dissent amid worsening economic conditions. 

Mayelín Rodríguez Prado, 23, was charged with “sedition” and disseminating “enemy propaganda” for publishing videos of a protest in the city of Nuevitas, in the central province of Camaguey, in August 2022. Another 12 demonstrators received sentences between 4 and 14 years in prison under similar charges, according to court documents shared by the Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, a human rights organization based in Madrid, over the weekend. 

A year after anti-government protests spread throughout the island on July 11, 2021, the residents of Nuevitas took to the streets again during an electricity blackout, chanting, “Turn on the lights,” “Freedom,” and “The people are tired,” independent news outlet 14ymedio reported at the time.

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article288144795.html

Havana Times, April 30, 2024

Cuba Maintains Capital Punishment to Deter and Intimidate

Aware that only the use of terror and force keeps it in power, the Cuban regime makes it clear that if necessary, it will not hesitate to kill.

By Cubaencuentro

HAVANA TIMES – Inflation, misery, the lack of medicine, and power outages, which were the triggers for previous demonstrations, are worsening daily in Cuba. Given the possibility that these protests may occur again, the regime has threatened the death penalty for those who participate in demonstrations considered “illegal.”

Through the television program Hacemos Cuba, the Communist Party leadership sent a clear message: they will not relinquish power and are prepared to repress and eliminate anyone who threatens their absolute control. Aware that only the use of repression and force keeps them in power, they have made it clear that if necessary, they will not hesitate to kill.

In an article published in the Spanish newspaper ABC, Cuban journalist Camila Acosta commented that in the mentioned program, “several senior officials from the Ministry of the Interior and the Justice system justified the police actions, which usually repress popular discontent strongly, in addition to warning about the legal consequences for those who participate in them.” Among the mentioned crimes, there is “sedition,” used against those who promote or participate in mass protests and “disturb the socialist constitutional order.” Sanctions range from 10 to 30 years of imprisonment, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty in exceptional cases.

Acosta notes that the military’s threats and statements from the Cuban justice system representatives occur a month after the protests in the east of the country, the largest since July 11, 2021. Hundreds of citizens, mainly in Bayamo and Santiago de Cuba, took to the streets peacefully on March 17th and 18th, shouting “electricity and food,” “freedom,” and “homeland and life.”

One of the participants in the television program, Colonel Hugo Morales Karell, expressed that these popular demonstrations are encouraged by supposed terrorists based in the United States, aiming to attack authority and create an atmosphere of violence to delegitimize the government. According to the official, these plans are intended to provoke an excessive police response, which can be used on social media to “demonstrate a failed government and a false police brutality.”

Morales also tried to refute accusations of police abuse and violence against unarmed citizens, labeling them as part of supposed “unconventional warfare plans” to create a pretext to accuse Cuba. Recently, the government website Razones de Cuba said that protests are expected on the island this coming summer and accused the US government of preparing sabotage focused on the national electrical system to create popular discontent and “heat up the streets.”

What the summer could bring

For his part, Otto Molina Rodríguez, president of the Criminal Chamber of Cuba’s Supreme Court, stated that promoting or participating in protests aimed at “overthrowing the powers and the government… does not only result in public disorder but aims to subvert our rule of law and social justice state, to fulfill their goals of colonizing us.” In its article 121, the Official Gazette of Cuba explains that those who “disturb the socialist constitutional order” may face the charge of sedition, which in its paragraph “A” establishes that it will be punished “with imprisonment from ten to thirty years, life imprisonment, or death, if the crime is committed in exceptional situations, disaster, affects state security, during severe public disorder, or in a military zone, using weapons or exercising violence.”

Morales also tried to refute accusations of police abuse and violence against unarmed citizens, labeling them as part of supposed “unconventional warfare plans” to create a pretext to accuse Cuba. Recently, the government website Razones de Cuba stated that protests are expected on the island this summer and accused the US government of preparing sabotage focused on the national electrical system to create popular discontent and “heat up the streets.”

Between 1959 and 2003, thousands of Cubans were executed by firearms, most of them in the early years of the dictatorship, with their crimes consisting of opposing the Castro regime. In 2003, it was last applied against three young Cubans who hijacked a boat to try to reach the United States, though they did not cause any fatalities. Since then, it has been on moratorium, but the threat and legal justification for using the death penalty still exists and gains weight in scenarios of massive anti-government protests. It is worth noting that in the more than six decades that the Cuban dictatorship has remained in power, it had never before faced such widespread citizen rejection.

In her work, Acosta also notes that “capital punishment has been used as a persuasive mechanism, and in the new Penal Code, in effect since December 1, 2022, far from being eliminated, the number of crimes that include death by firing squad as punishment has increased.” While in the previous code there were 20, in the current code that is still in force, there are 24 crimes punished with capital punishment, most of which are violations against state security. This, Acosta asserts, “legally allows the regime to physically eliminate even political opponents, all those human rights activists and dissidents demanding a change in the system and a democratic transition. The 2019 constitution declares the socialist system as ‘irrevocable’ and the Communist Party of Cuba as the only legally recognized party and the leading and superior force of society.”

https://havanatimes.org/features/cuba-maintains-capital-punishment-to-deter-and-intimidate/

Committee to Protect Journalists, April 30th, 2024 

Cuban journalist questioned about social media posts, jailed  

Miami, April 30, 2024—Cuban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release jailed local freelance journalist José Luis Tan Estrada and allow reporters to work without fear of reprisal, said the Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday. 

On April 26, Tan was arrested in the Cuban capital of Havana and has since been detained in the Villa Marista prison, according to several media reports. The journalist confirmed his arrest and detention in a phone call to local activist Yamilka Lafita, according to La Hora de Cuba, an independent media outlet in Tan’s hometown of Camagüey.  

“We are gravely concerned by the detention of Cuban freelance journalist José Luis Tan Estrada,” said CPJ U.S., Canada and Caribbean Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “Journalists should never be imprisoned for doing their jobs and covering matters of public importance, and Cuban authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Tan.”  

A former journalism professor, Tan, 26, was fired from his job at the public University of Camagüey in 2023 for openly criticizing the Cuban government. Tan has also contributed freelance reports to several independent Cuban media publications based outside of the country, including YucabyteCubaNet, and Diario de Cuba, writing about living conditions in Camagüey and digital media issues. 

Tan was previously detained for questioning several times in Camagüey in connection with social media posts and articles he wrote for several media outlets, according to his Facebook page

On April 16, he received his second police summons in less than 72 hours, regarding his alleged “subversive activity,” he said. 

During questioning, Tan said police used a folder full of his posts on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, as evidence against him, which included his reactions to comedic posts about Cuban authorities. 

“Once again, the repressive and harassing hands of the Cuban regime try to silence all those of us who raise our voices against their constant violations of human rights,” Tan wrote in an April 16 Facebook post.  

Later, Tan posted that he was fined 3,000 pesos ($10) for violating Decree-Law #370, which prohibits the dissemination of information “contrary to the social interest, morals, good manners and integrity of people.” Previously, Cuban authorities have used the law to interrogate and fine journalists and critics and confiscate their working materials, according to Human Rights Watch

https://cpj.org/2024/04/cuban-journalist-questioned-about-social-media-posts-jailed/ 

Havana Times, April 28, 2024

Fifteen Years for Transmitting a Protest Live in Cuba

Pascual Claro Valladares attempts suicide in prison upon learning of his 10 year sentence for sedition; 13 peaceful protesters in Camagüey get 4 to 15 years.

Mayelín Rodriguez Prado was 21 years old at the time of the protests in Nuevitas, Camagüey / Facebook/Mayelin Rodríguez Prado

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – The awaited sentences from the Provincial Court of Camagüey against the Nuevitas protesters from August 2022 repeat the repressive pattern of the widespread July 11, 2021 protests. Thirteen Cubans have received sentences ranging from 4 to 15 years in prison for peacefully protesting in the streets.

According to activist Marcel Valdés, one of them, Fray Pascual Claro Valladares, “attempted to hang himself” in the Ceramica Roja prison, in the same province, upon learning of his 10-year prison sentence for the crime of sedition. His mother, Yanelis Valladares, who was also prosecuted for sedition, was acquitted “due to insufficient evidence.”

The longest sentence was given to Mayelin Rodriguez Prado, the young woman who was 21 at the time and broadcasted live the protests in her town on Facebook. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison, as requested by the prosecutor, for “continuous enemy propaganda” and “sedition.” The prosecutors also requested 15 years for Jose Armando Torrente Muñoz, who was ultimately sentenced to 14 years in prison for the crimes of sedition, assault, and resistance.

Jimmy Jhonson Agosto and Ediolvis Marin Mora were sentenced to 13 years in prison, both for sedition and sabotage. Lisdan Cabrera Batista was next in severity, with 11 years in prison for sedition and “other acts against state security.”

The majority of those tried were sentenced to 10 years in prison for sedition, the standard crime fabricated for the July 11, 2021 convictions. Along with Fray Claro Valladares, this applies to Davier Leyva Velez, Keiler Velazquez Medina, Menkel de Jesus Menendez Vargas, Frank Alberto Carreon Suarez, and Lazaro Alejandro Perez Agosto.

Yennis Artola del Sol received an 8-year sentence for “continuous enemy propaganda,” and Wilker Álvarez Ramirez was sentenced to 4 years for concealment.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) issued a statement on Saturday condemning “in the strongest terms” the outcome of this trial, which took place over two days in January.

The organization Justicia 11J, which keeps track of the list of protesters detained since the 2021 protests, reported in August 2022, after two days of consecutive peaceful protests in Nuevitas, the “violent” arrest of Jose Armando Torrente, who took to the streets in the Pastelillo neighborhood. The NGO warned at the time that there was “audiovisual evidence of the aggression towards his 11-year-old daughter, Gerlin Torrente Echeverría,” and another girl who was with her when police repressed the protesters.

The OCDH issued a statement on Saturday condemning “in the strongest terms” the outcome of this trial.

Gerlin’s mother was also violently detained but released on Saturday night. Similarly, Fray Claro Valladares and Mayelin Rodriguez Prado were questioned for broadcasting the protests on Facebook.

The protests in Nuevitas began on the night of August 18 with cries of “the people are tired.” Hundreds of residents took to the streets shouting slogans for freedom and demands for electricity. That day, they also threatened to return to the streets if the authorities cut off the power again.

The next day, Nuevitas residents reported the militarization of the area.

The protests, as seen in numerous videos shared on social media, were massive, illuminated by the lights of cellphones and motorcycles, and accompanied by pots and pans, horns, clapping, and loud slogans.

Alongside cries calling for an end to power outages—”turn on the power, dammit”—were also shouts for “freedom” and “homeland and life.”

https://havanatimes.org/features/fifteen-years-for-transmitting-a-protest-live-in-cuba/

BBC April 30th, 2024

US condemns Cuba over long jail sentences imposed on protesters

By Vanessa Buschschlüter – BBC News

The US government has condemned a Cuban court’s decision to hand down lengthy sentences to a group of protesters as “repression”.

Thirteen protesters were found guilty of crimes including sedition and sabotage earlier this year after they took to the streets in August 2022 to vent their anger at lengthy power cuts.

They were sentenced last week to jail terms of up to 15 years.

Unauthorised public gatherings are illegal in Cuba and protests are rare.

But the dire state of the Cuban economy, which has led to food, fuel and medicine shortages as well as power cuts, has angered some so much they have been willing to defy the rules governing public gatherings.

In July 2021, thousands of disaffected Cubans formed the largest protests to be held on the Communist-run island for decades. More than 1,000 were arrested and handed jail sentences.

The economy has been spiralling downwards even further since, with the government for the first time asking the United Nations food programme for help to alleviate shortages.

The group of protesters sentenced last week had taken to the streets in Nuevitas in August 2022 after their small town experienced lengthy power cuts.

The majority of their sentences ranged between 10 and 15 years, Reuters news agency reported citing a sentencing document.

An American official, Brian Nichols, called the severity of their punishment “outrageous”.

“The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfil their basic rights and needs is unconscionable,” Mr Nichols, US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

While the Cuban government has not yet responded directly to Mr Nichol’s tweets, Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, has in recent weeks accused the US of planning to trigger “a social explosion” on the anniversary of the July 2021 protests.

The Cuban government has long blamed US sanctions for its economic problems, and state-controlled media has warned of alleged attempts by the US government to “make the most of Cuba’s complex economic situation” to create unrest on its streets.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-68927092

Reuters, April 29th, 2024 

US blasts Cuban gov’t sentencing of protesters as ‘unconscionable’ and ‘outrageous’ 

 

HAVANA, April 29 (Reuters) – The United States on Monday blasted a Cuban court’s decision to sentence a group of protesters to as many as 15 years in jail, calling the recent judgment “unconscionable” and “outrageous.” 

The protests, which took place in the small eastern Cuban port city of Nuevitas in the summer of 2022, flared during a time when power outages had grown severe in the region, pushing hundreds of frustrated citizens to take to the streets. 

The Cuban government tried and found 13 of those who participated in the protest guilty of crimes ranging from sabotage to sedition, according to a sentencing document viewed by Reuters. One woman was found not guilty due to lack of evidence. 

The majority of the penalties ranged from 10 to 15 years in prison, which the United States and several human rights groups on Monday classified as heavy-handed. 

“The harsh sentencing this week of up to 15 years in prison for Cubans who peacefully assembled in Nuevitas in 2022 is outrageous,” said Brian Nichols, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs on X. 

“The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfill their basic rights and needs is unconscionable.” 

The Cuban government did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the statement from Nichols. 

Cuba’s handling of protests on the island is a major sticking point in the increasingly frosty relationship between long-time foes the United States and Cuba. 

Following island-wide anti-government protests on July 11, 2021 – the largest since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution – the Cuban government jailed hundreds, prompting a sharp rebuke from the United States, the European Union and rights groups. 

The Cuban government says those it has jailed during island protests have been tried and found guilty of other crimes, including public disobedience, vandalism and sedition, and denies human rights violations. 

Cuba’s 2019 constitution grants citizens the right to protest, but a law more specifically defining that right is stalled in the legislature, leaving those who take to the street in legal limbo. 

Fresh protests broke out in Cuba in March, when hundreds took to the streets in and around Santiago, the island’s second largest city, amid hours-long daily blackouts and food shortages. 

Upwards of two dozen people were detained, according to reports from family members on social media and human right group’s tallies. 

https://www.reuters.com/world/us-blasts-cuban-govt-sentencing-protesters-unconscionable-outrageous-2024-04-30/