New constitution voting process triggers violations to civic space

Association

The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights documented a total of 179 arrests for political reasons in January. The main victims of these actions were members of Ladies in White, who accounted for 84 of the arrests. Women were also the main victims, with 94 arrests, compared to the 85 arrests of men. The government continues to implement the strategy of short term detentions as only 12 of the arrests lasted for more than 24 hours, showing that the sole objective of the government is to dismantle specific events of the dissidents, and to undermine the work of the whole opposition movement. 

Another reason behind the detentions is that on 24th February Cubans voted in the referendum to approve the new Constitution, a topic that has divided the country. The government encouraged citizens to vote “yes” as the Constitution still places the communist party as the main authority in the country. On the other hand, the opposition and other sectors were campaigning for the “no” as they considered the new text to violate basic civil and political rights, including conservative concepts like the one of marriage, considered the bond between “a man and a woman”. The government thus increased its repressive actions against those promoting the “no” vote. The repression went beyond the traditional dissidents and even a Priest of a Christian church in Santiago de Cuba was arrested for persuading his congregation to vote “no”.

Dissidents of the country denounced that the voting process on 24th February took place in a context of repression where there were more police officers than voters in the voting polls. There were multiple reports of arrests against dissidents and representatives of independent observatory initiatives. In regard to all these acts that have emerged around the constitutional referendum, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, in a press release, condemned all forms of intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, activists and dissidents.

On 4th February 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations published a new call to the Cuban government for the immediate release of political prisoner Eduardo Cardet, arrested on 30th November 2016 for criticising Fidel Castro, after concluding that his arrest was arbitrary and unlawful. The three main reasons for this conclusion are that there is no legal basis for his detention, that his detention was a result of his exercise of the right freedom of speech and the authorities failed to protect Cardet’s right to a fair trial.

Peaceful Assembly

According to the report of the CCDHRN, there were also cases of attacks on peaceful protesters who were protesting against the referendum. As a result, these people were fined and detained by the police. For instance, on Sunday 24th February, 31 members of Ladies in White were arrested as they prepared to march against the constitutional referendum. Antonio Rodiles and Angel Moya were arrested on 23rd February in La Habana also for holding a small demonstration against the new constitution. Both activists were released hours after their arrest.

On 14th January 2019, a man was arrested near the Havana capitol while he was protesting with his two children to demand the release of the kids’ mother who, according to the reports, is currently in detention in Pinar del Rio. According to CiberCuba, the identity of the man and his whereabouts are unknown.