Amnesty International on August 26, 2019 identified five new prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and states that they likely represent “a tiny fraction of those behind bars for peacefully expressing their views.”
The human rights organization goes on to explain that this is due to Cuban authorities continuing to deny independent human rights monitors access to Cuba and its prisons. Last time the Castro regime allowed such a visit was 1989.
In addition to the lack of access Amnesty International also highlights a “profound climate of fear” due to "the state’s machinery of control.” More media attention, especially by foreign correspondents based in Cuba would discourage these outrageous abuses.
Yoani Sánchez over twitter on August 27, 2019 placed the crime of "pre-criminal dangerousness" into context:
" Did you know that in Cuba you can jailed for a crime that seems to be taken from the film ‘Minority Report’? It's called 'pre-criminal dangerousness' an they lock you up for what you could do, for the suspicion of an action in the future. Many times, that's how political reprisals are hidden."
Amnesty International, August 26, 2019
Cuba: Amnesty International names five new prisoners of conscience
Just over a year since President Miguel Díaz-Canel took office, the existence of prisoners of conscience in Cuba remains a sharp indicator of how authorities there continue to restrict the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today.
“For decades, Cuba has stifled freedom of expression and assembly by locking up people for their beliefs and opposition to the government. Over the years, the names of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience have changed, but the state’s tactics have stayed almost exactly the same,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
For decades, Cuba has stifled freedom of expression and assembly by locking up people for their beliefs and opposition to the government. Over the years, the names of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience have changed, but the state’s tactics have stayed almost exactly the same. - Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
“Sadly, we know that the five prisoners of conscience we have named today likely represent a tiny fraction of those behind bars for peacefully expressing their views. As the Cuban authorities continue to deny independent human rights monitors access to the country and its prisons, and because the state’s machinery of control maintains a profound climate of fear, there are serious barriers for Amnesty International to document such cases.”
The list of prisoners of conscience includes members of political and pro-democracy groups not recognized by the state – all of whom have been imprisoned for crimes that are either inconsistent with international law or that have been used for decades in Cuba to silence critical voices. As the executive continues to tightly control lawyers and the judiciary, there are few ways to challenge such decisions.
“The government of Díaz-Canel should focus on finding real solutions to Cuba’s problems, which include increasing scarcity of food and medicine, according to news reports. Instead, it continues to lock people up for their views”, said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
The government of Díaz-Canel should focus on finding real solutions to Cuba’s problems, which include increasing scarcity of food and medicine, according to news reports. Instead, it continues to lock people up for their views. - Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
Amnesty International, August 26, 2019
CUBA: A SNAPSHOT OF PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF PRESIDENT MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL
In a rare press conference with former US President Obama in 2016, President Raúl Castro flatly denied that there were any “political prisoners” in Cuba. However, in the past four years, Amnesty International has named 12 prisoners of conscience in the country, and there are likely many more.
Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.Just over a year after new President Miguel Díaz-Canel assumed office, NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders claims that at least 71people are imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Having considered just a handful those cases, in which we were able to review official court sentences and other available documentation, Amnesty International believes that the below mentioned individuals are prisoners of conscience –people imprisoned solely because of the peaceful exercise of theirhuman rights.Without access to Cuba, and because lawyers and the judiciary remain firmly under the authorities’ control, there are serious barriers for Amnesty International to document cases of those imprisoned solely for politically motivated reasons, and as such there are highly likely to be many more cases of prisoners of conscience than our organization has been able to document.
According to information available to Amnesty International, all the individuals are members of political opposition groups, not recognized by the authorities. All of them have been imprisoned for offences that are not internationally recognizable, which have been used for decades in Cuba to silence critical voices. Amnesty International calls for the reform of Cuba’s criminal laws to remove provisions that are inconsistent with international law, such as “dangerousness” and “contempt.”
BACKGROUND: CRIMINAL LAWS USED TO SILENCE IN CUBA
RESISTANCE AND PUBLIC DISORDER
Provisions of the criminal code such as “resistance” to public officials carrying out their duties, and “public disorder” have been used for decades to stifle the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Cuba.CONTEMPT“Contempt”, defined in article 144.1 of Cuba’s Criminal Code, is an undue restriction on the right to freedom of expression, as public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. The use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting criticism of government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression.
The provision of “dangerousness” is contained in Articles 78-84 of the Penal Code. These provisions are imprecise and subjective, which allow the authorities to apply them arbitrarily. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has stated that detentions in Cuba are arbitrary when “persons are deprived of their liberty for a long period on the basis of their alleged dangerousness, with no reference to specific acts defined with the rigour that has been required by international criminal law since at least the eighteenth century, and which is now enshrined in article 11, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Amnesty International has further documented how the authorities use dismissals from state-employment, and harassment of self-employed workers in emerging private sector, as tactics of control over the right to freedom of expression, leaving many critical of the state’s economic or political model jobless.In multiple sentences issued for “dangerousness” reviewed by Amnesty International, the court refers to the fact that the accused does not work, as part of its reasoning for issuing the sentence of “dangerousness”. As those overtly critical of the government are frequently subject to such dismissals, this, in turn, facilitates the authorities’ ability to imprison dissenting voices for “dangerousness”.
PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
1. Josiel Guía Piloto (male) is president of the Republican Party of Cuba and serving a five year-sentence for “public disorder” and “contempt.”Josiel was detained after having criticized former President Fidel Castro on 1 December 2016. According to his mother, who has also been involved in activism against the Cuban government, prison officialsbeat him in prison leaving him with complications to his left lung. 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.
2.Silverio Portal Contreras (male), former activist with the Ladies in White, is serving a 4-year sentence for "contempt" and "public disorder." According to a court document, Silverio was arrested on the 20 June 2016 in Old Havana after shouting “Down Fidel Castro, down Raúl...” The document states that the behavior of the accused is particularly offensive because it took place in a touristic area. The document further describes the accused as having “bad social and moral behavior” and mentions that he fails to participate in pro-government activities. According to Silverio’s wife, before his arrest he had campaigned against the collapsing of dilapidated buildings in Havana.
3. Mitzael Díaz Paseiro(male) is a member of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica Orlando Zapata Tamayo (FNRC-OZT) and who was imprisoned in 2017 for four years, for “dangerousness”.Mitzael Diaz Paseiro is a political activist who was campaigning against the government’s position in the constitutional reform process. According to his wife, prior to his imprisonment the police had detained him multiple times for his activism. According to court documents, which Amnesty International was able to review, Mitzael was imprisoned for “dangerousness”, for among other things, failing to hold a job, for meeting with “citizens of terrible moral and conduct”, for drinking alcohol frequently, and using vulgar language. Mitzael’s wife says he suffers a heart condition and says he has been beaten by officials in jail for his views.
4. Eliecer Bandera Barrera(male), an activist of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) since 2015, is serving a sentence for “dangerousness” until 2021.Eliecer was arrested in September 2016 after having filmed videos for UNPACU about the conditions of workers interned in camps, according to his wife. Eliecer was sentenced to four years imprisonment for “dangerousness” by the Municipal Court of Rio Cauto in 2016, and subsequently further sentenced to 10 months for escaping the camp where he was interned to make a phone call to a sick family member, before voluntarily returning. According to the sentence, during his imprisonment for “dangerousness”, Eliecer “did not participate in political and educational activities” ... “showing disrespect for the officers guarding him”. He also has a prior sentence for “resistance” issued in 2003.
5. Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá (male) is an UNPACU activist, reportedly imprisoned for not paying a fine.According to information received by Amnesty International, Edilberto has been imprisoned since December 2018, reportedly for not paying fines related to his alleged distribution of political posters. Edilberto was most recently involved in the “Cuba Decide” Campaign and campaigned against the government’s position in the recent constitutional reform process. According to Cuban Prisoners Defenders, Edilberto was detained on 24 December 2018, when filming testimonies of people discussing the constitutional reform process in a public market, in the city of Camagüey. After being taken to prison, he was sentenced to 14 months of prison for failing to pay fines previously accumulated.On 22 April 2019 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures calling on Cuban authorities to respect and protect the rights to health, life and physical integrity of Edilberto.
These five cases show that although the leadership in Cuba might have changed, illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and association are still the practice. Therefore, besides other key recommendations presented in our Human Rights Agenda for Cuba, we urge the Cuban government to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, and quash their convictions, which are solely based on their peaceful exercise of their human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
2.Pending their release, ensure that prisoners of conscience are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and are treated in full accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules);
3.Guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association in Cuba, including for dissident, opponent or activist voices and repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights.