mesa, silla

Foto: elTOQUE.

Cuban Prosecutor Seeks Up to 15 Years in Prison for Protestors

29 / septiembre / 2023

Camaguey’s Public Prosecutor’s Office presented its Provisional Findings* against 14 Nuevitas residents who have been in prison for over a year because they took part in the public protests in this town in August 2022. 

According to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported its findings to the defendants on September 22, 2023. Dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights on the archipelago, this organization published fragments from the document on X.

The document the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented in the Courtroom for Crimes against State Security at the People’s Provincial Court in Camaguey, asks for 4-15- year prison sentences for the defendants. The document states that the regime has survived criticism in terms of criminalizing public protests and won’t give up its harsh sentencing for people who dare to publicly challenge the status quo. 

Two years after the social uprising in July 2021 and over a year after the protests against blackouts during the summer in 2022, the Cuban Government continues to see public protest as sedition, a serious crime.

Most protestors in Nuevitas who were accused and taken to trial are facing sedition charges. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is asking for an average of 10-year prison sentences for them. Behavior that the Public Prosecutor’s Office considers to fall under the crime of sedition include taking to the street with pots and pans and uttering the words “Abajo Diaz-Canel”  (Down with Diaz-Canel),“Diaz-Canel, singao” (Diaz-Canel, asshole), “Pongan la corriente, pinga” (Switch on the electricity, damn it) and “Patria y vida” (Homeland and Life). 

The events described by the Public Prosecutor’s Office would be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to protest and freedom of expression in many places in the world. However, in Cuba, they are considered criminal conduct exacerbated by other circumstances.

According to the Provisional Findings, protesters deserve harsher sentences because they took advantage of nighttime and the blackout to take to the streets and protest. They believe that protesting under these conditions needs to be reprimanded more than just a social protest, because protestors chose to ignore official explanations in the press for the blackouts and took advantage of the tough situation the country was going through “caused by the US blockade” to take to the streets and to incite others to join them, they say.

The document follows the same pattern as many of the Provisional Findings that the Public Prosecutor’s Office used to try July 11, 2021, protestors. At that time, the Public Prosecutor’s Office believed that the pandemic was a situation that protestors took advantage of to guarantee their impunity, rather than a situation that catalyzed citizens’ unhappiness with the Government’s poor management. In the case of Nuevitas, blackouts aren’t seen as a reason for public protest, but as an element that citizens used, daring to ignore the official message and create “riots”.

Unlike the July 11 protestor trials, where testimonies from officers were used and videos from security cameras were used to identify possible protestors, the Provisional Findings from the Nuevitas trial go one step further and they said they were able to verify many protestors’ participation via “investigations conducted.” The term investigations conducted refers to information obtained from anonymous informers who don’t have to defend their statement in a courtroom, which makes it impossible for defendants to confirm or disagree with existing evidence against them.

The Provisional Findings for the protests in Nuevitas uphold charges against two women who were previously exposed on the government’s TV program Razones de Cuba, Mayelin Rodriguez Prado and Yennys Artola del Sol. Both have been charged with sedition and enemy propaganda for writing two signs in public spaces against Diaz-Canel and the Cuban Government. This is the same crime that has been used to sanction other activists and ordinary citizens, such as Luis Robles.

In the document presented in the People’s Provincial Court in Camaguey, the Public Prosecutor’s Office pushes the idea that using social media to mobilize or exchange ideas against the Cuban Government is an action that can and deserves to be punished with prison time. 

Most of the actions that took place in Nuevitas were encouraged via exchanges between locals on different Facebook groups (“Apagon” and “La Luz Nuevitera”). Interactions between defendants in these groups or with profile and actors considered “counterrevolutionaries” were presented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as proof of the defendant’s premeditation and influence from abroad for them to carry out “counter-revolutionary and violent actions against the socio-political system endorsed by the Cuban Constitution.”

Cuban authorities once again used the clause establishing constitutional intangibility in Article 4 of the 2019 Constitution to label any stance or action against “socialism” sedition, which needs to be sanctioned with a harsh sentence.

Legal documents (such as the Provisional Findings from the Nuevitas case) confirm how repression of dissent is being legitimized via a judicial system controlled by the Communist Party, when people stand up to a system incapable of bringing about prosperity, but demands absolute obedience. A system that represses with an iron hand, like it did in Nuevitas; where there were even reports of violence against minors at the hands of Cuban Government supporters and security forces. 

The independent press announced that political police officers interrogated the children with their mothers present; but the repressors haven’t been charged with any violation. 

However, they are asking for a more severe sentence for Mayelin Rodriguez Prado for having used, in theory, her underage daughter to commit acts that the Government (who repressed her and exposed her on national TV) considers “counter-revolutionary.”

*Provisional Findings is a document in which the Public Prosecutor’s Office lays out the facts they have to accuse each defendant, the crimes involved and sanctions they propose.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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