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Almost a year after the massive protests of July 11 in Cuba, official repression against dissidents has intensified while the legal framework that has stifled the political opposition would lead to the almost absolute obliteration of dissent, according to activists, international human rights and press freedom organizations.
It is evident that the protests by Cuban citizens calling for better living conditions, in the face of an economic-social crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, generated a state of shock among the leaders of the Communist Party. The Cuban government then decided to close ranks and to extinguish social unrest by using a tool that it knows better than anyone: systematic repression, persecution, jail and forced exile for all kinds of dissonant voices.
The reaction of the Cuban Attorney General was immediate: more than 700 individuals accused of “acts of vandalism, which struck authorities, people and property, as well as serious disturbances of public order.” Then last March more than 120 people were sentenced to prison terms between 6 and 30 years.
The recent approval of a new penal code, strongly disproportionate, is framed in this context that is increasingly prone to obstruct and close any space for demonstrations contrary to the official vision. Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of the People’s Supreme Court (TSP), described the law as “a modern criminal law, tempered to socioeconomic realities and updated with the Constitution and other legal provisions,” according to the official newspaper Granma.
The statements of the president of the People’s Supreme Court could not be more absurd. There is nothing further from a “modern” law than the new Cuban criminal code, an archaic catalog of prohibitions, severe punishments and limitations that put an almost definitive clamp on the possibility of expressing oneself, through the press, art, any cultural or political expression, contrary to the official point of view.
For example, the amendment of article 143 of the Penal Code prohibits Cuban citizens from receiving foreign funds, a measure that would allow the authorities to increase the oppression with which they subject the independent press that depends on this type of financing to carry out their activities, which stipulates penalties of up to 10 years in prison. “With the new penal code, Cuban authorities continue to build an intricate and perverse legal regime of censorship and deal a devastating blow on independent journalists and outlets,” said in a statement the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The sponsors of the new penal code are excited to point out that the norm provides “extensive guarantees” and it is up to date compared to the previous one, which had been approved in 1987 and did not contemplate crimes against the environment, cybercrimes and gender violence.
But the reality is different, and critics and opponents maintain that the new regulations will encourage more repression and censorship. In the new penal code, the crimes of spreading false news and sedition are preserved –which were used to punish some of the July 11 protesters with up to 30 years in prison – and that of enemy propaganda is renamed propaganda against the constitutional order.
The new penal code “maintains a broad and imprecise language to classify crimes such as sedition and against the constitutional order and intensifies penalties related to them such as life imprisonment and death,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized through its Twitter account.
The possibility of another wave of massive protests keeps the Cuban government awake. And therefore, the disproportionate reaction of the authorities, which includes more repression and approval of new restrictive laws. As journalist Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, defined in a recent article: “The independent press, activism, popular protests in the style of the ones that occurred on July 11, and the possibility that individuals unite to revoke the economic political system are at the center of the tremors that run through the Plaza de la Revolución”.