Cuban authorities step up targetted repression of civil society, media and protestors
In late September, the offices of the Cubalex Legal Information Centre were raided by police. Cubalex is a Cuban civil society organisation providing free legal advice to Cuban citizens and reporting on human rights issues. The organisation's headquarters were broken into and searched by police who confiscated their equipment and paperwork and intimidated and humiliated activists. Cubalex leaders were arbitrarily detained and released soon afterwards. The authorities justified the operation on the grounds that the lawyers were carrying out an 'illicit economic activity', even though the legal advice provided by Cubalex is free of charge. The authorities also claimed that Cubalex is an 'illegal association', which is technically the case, given that the Cuban Ministry of Justice rejected the group’s application for legal status last July.
According to independent journalist Miriam Celaya,
'With this act, repression breaks its own routines and sends a grim message: It is no longer limited to attacking and beating dissidents and opponents who peacefully demonstrate in the streets, but the regime is now ready to violate its own laws and indiscriminately raid private spaces in an attempt to crush any outbreak of dissent. No one is safe; the Constitution and the laws are not valid against the power of the Castro state/party/clan.'
Cubalex is one of a number of CSOs that have recently experienced higher levels of police harassment and government scrutiny. Not unlike several other Cuban human rights defenders, Cubalex Director Laritza Diversent had already been targeted for engaging with regional and international human rights bodies. Just a few weeks earlier, she had been briefly detained upon her arrival from Geneva and all her materials confiscated. She had been in Geneva to give testimony before the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Along with other Cubalex members, Ms. Diversent is the beneficiary of a precautionary measure issued by the IACHR.
On 27th October, the director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdés, received an 'official warning' during a meeting with Cuban state security in Havana. During a meeting that lasted for two hours and fifteen minutes, officials threatened Valdés that 'as of today' his life 'would be very difficult' if one day 'he was to incur one of the crimes [against State Security].' While the interaction was peaceful, it highlighted the routine use of intimidation by government forces against civil society members under the guise of protecting State Security.
In early November, Berta Soler, a leader of the protest group Damas de Blanco, condemned the actions of police and Cuban state security for raiding the home of another member of the organisation, Maria Josef Acon, and for detaining her husband. The raid came after Damas de Blanco launched its 78th Sunday of Protest against the Cuban regime. The organisation’s headquarters were also vandalised on Sunday, 6th November, and Soler herself was arrested.
Along with other Cuban CSOs, Damas de Blanco will hold its 80th Sunday of Protest on 20th November. In preparation, the Cuban police have made between 15 and 45 arrests each Sunday during the group's #TodosMarchamos demonstrations across the country. The Damas de Blanco movement was founded in 2003 by the wives and female relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents. The organisation's protests currently focus on the situation of the activists who were imprisoned for speaking up against the Castro regime when international leaders, including President Obama and Pope Francis, visited Havana in recent years.
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), a human rights CSO, recorded 620 short-term detentions and cases of political persecution in Cuba during the month of October alone. CCDHRN’s latest report also noted that over the past ten months more arbitrary detentions took place for political reasons than in the previous six years. The organisation predicts that such detentions will exceed the annual count of 10,000 by the end of 2016.
Una vez más por Periodismo de Barrio https://t.co/rzCn9qwVwp— Observatorio Crítico (@oc_cuba) October 18, 2016
In early October, the Cuban government enforced further restrictions on journalists in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the East Coast of the island especially hard. Ten journalists, including the director of the independent online newspaper Periodismo de Barrio, Elaine Diaz, were arrested in Baracoa for trying to report on the impact of the hurricane without a permit. Maykel Gonazalez Vivero, an independent journalist, was also arrested while he was conducting interviews with the Revolutionary Defense Committee (CDR). Before his arrest, he had published an article in Diario de Cuba entitled 'Road to Baracoa after the passage of Matthew', in which he criticised political propaganda and the government's response to the environmental disaster.
Later in the month, the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) condemned a wave of repression against several journalists cooperating with their fortnightly newsletter Pinareño Panorama. The journalists were the victims of raids on their homes, verbal threats, physical violence and the confiscation of the equipment. The publication’s new director, Lázaro Luis Ruiz Echevarria, and one of its collaborators, Stephen Ajete Bascal, were also arrested. State Security forces confiscated 47 printed copies of Pinareño Panorama as well as the director’s cellphone. The newsletter's former director, Dianelis Rodriguez, and her husband, attorney Raul Risco, were also detained for several hours.
Civic Space Developments