Civic freedoms in Cuba becoming increasingly restrained

Peaceful Assembly

Cuba continues to use arbitrary detention and harassment as strategies to restrict civic space. A frequent target of such tactics, organisation Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) reported that 26 of their members were arrested on 23rd of June on their way to Sunday Masses, which were organised as rites of prayer for the freedom of political prisoners. Among those arrested were leader Berta Soler and activists Gladis Capote, Marieta Martínez and Micaela Roll. Activist Angel Juan Moya, who posted a video of Soler's detention on Twitter, was also arrested

In a separate development, a student protest at the Havana University of Medical Sciences turned violent on 8th April 2019. The protesters were Congolese students who had not received their scholarship stipends in over two years, and they had been striking since the end of March. Official press claims violence started because some students threw stones, damaged student residence facilities and attacked the police present at the demonstration. The police force used dogs and pepper spray to control the demonstrators and, as reported by local and international news sources, some protesters were injured in the confrontation. Since the incident, authorities have decided to deport nearly 100 Congolese students who were involved in the demonstration. According to group Je Ne Rentre Pas Sans Mon Diplome (I Won't Return Without My Diploma), which has reported the strikes from the beginning, the detained students were being held in isolation, with communication restricted to immigration officials and Congo's consular authorities.

In May 2019, a peaceful march for LGBT pride in Havana also faced clashes with Cuban authorities. The Alternative March Against Homophobia had been scheduled after the more traditional Conga against Homophobia was cancelled by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX). Two days before the march, independent journalist and activist Zekie Fuentes reported receiving a warning from Cuban Security forces that he would imprisoned if he continued convening the event. On the 11th of May, the day of the march, participants noted significant police presence around the march with policemen stationed every 50m in places where it was forecasted to move through. 

The same day, Fuentes and his partner, Yosmany Mayeta, reported that a police patrol had been stationed in front of their residence since early morning - as described in the post above. Activists Isbel Díaz and Jaime Martínez were arrested in front of their house as they prepared to go to the mobilisation. They were released 24 hours later without being subjected to interrogation. According to media channel 14ymedio, at least 5 other activists were arrested during the march. These reports signal that Cuban authorities continue to use harassment, threats and short-term detention to prevent activist participation in specific events, as previously reported on the Monitor. 

Organised mainly over social media, the Alternative March gathered around 300 people despite heavy policing and a boycott by CENESEX, whose leader is Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raul Castro.

Association

In Holguín province activist Roberto Santana of the Comité Ciudadanos por la Integración Racial (Citizen's Committee for Racial Integration - CIR) was detained and held in custody at the Criminal Procedure Center for 48 hours. The arrest took place on 29th June as Santana was travelling from his residence to Havana. Asked about the reason behind the arrest, authorities reportedly said Santana was "under investigation". Yet another case took place in Santiago de Cuba. On the 1st July, the Youth Front of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) denounced the arrest and torture of 33 year old activist Roilan Álvarez. According to the UNPACU monitoring network “Red Alerta Joven”, Álvarez sustained several injuries to his face and hand. The network reported that this incident was meant to force Álvarez into exile. 

Expression

On 8th April, university student Jorge Enrique Cruz Batista was expelled from the Ignacio Agramonte University in Camagüey. Batista was accused of spreading posters with messages against president Diaz-Canel. According to the student, security agents told him that if he did not confess authorship of the posters, he would be detained and held without communication. The same university had already fired professor José Raúl Gallego for critical comments made on his personal networks, and had also conducted investigations on other students - reportedly for their political views. 

In another development, a number of attacks on freedom of expression emerged in the middle of April as the 2019 Havana Bienal started. Authorities used arbitrary arrests and threats to intimidate independent Cuban artists, in particular those that have campaigned against Decree 349 restricting artistic expression. At least 5 artists reported being subjected to these tactics as the Bienal took place. On 10th April, Cuban American artist and scholar Coco Fusco, who has expressed support for the movement against the decree, was denied entry into the country without explanation from authorities. According to a Freemuse report, 86 per cent of violations of artistic freedom in Cuba used arbitrary detention, in addition to intimidation, as political tool to silence critical artists.

On 22nd April 2019, CubaNet's reporter Roberto Jesús Quiñones was arrested while covering a trial in Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal. Quiñonez  claims to have been severely beaten inside the police car that transported him to the police station. He sustained injuries to his mouth, tongue, ear and hand. Cuba's continuous violations on freedom of expression drew the attention of the Interamerican Press Association (IAPA). IAPA has stated that Cuba's new Constitution, adopted in February 2019, condemns independent journalism as a criminal conduct and upholds a gag order on the press. On this topic, IAPA president María Elvira Domínguez said:

"Unfortunately, this new Constitution points out that the State is master and patron of the freedom of its citizens and is the supreme repressor of press freedom."