Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Restrictions to freedom of expression create climate of fear in Cuba

Restrictions to freedom of expression create climate of fear in Cuba
30 June 2010

Full report:

Cuba's repressive legal system has created a climate of fear among
journalists, dissidents and activists, putting them at risk of arbitrary
arrest and harassment by the authorities, Amnesty International said in
a report released on Wednesday.

The report Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba highlights
provisions in the legal system and government practices that restrict
information provided to the media and which have been used to detain and
prosecute hundreds of critics of the government.

"The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed
criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak
out against the government. There is an urgent need for reform to make
all human rights a reality for all Cubans," said Kerrie Howard, Deputy
Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director of the Candonga online
newspaper, is one of many Cuban independent journalists who have been
arbitrarily arrested, interrogated and intimidated by the authorities.

In September 2009 he was arbitrarily detained for 14 days, before being
released without charge. At the time, police also confiscated his
computer, which hosted the website, and disconnected his telephone line.

Although Yosvani Anzardo is resigned to not continuing with the site, he
still does not understand why it was closed. "We were hoping that the
government understood that what we were doing was exercising a right, we
didn't hurt anyone," said the journalist. "We tried very hard to give
information about what was happening in the country. They [the
authorities] considered this to be dangerous."

The Cuban state has a virtual monopoly on media while demanding that all
journalists join the national journalists' association, which is in turn
controlled by the Communist Party.

The authorities have also put in place filters restricting access to
blogs that openly criticize the government and restrictions on
fundamental freedoms.

The Cuban Constitution goes even further in curbing freedom of
expression by stating that "[n]one of the freedoms which are recognized
for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the
Constitution and law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the
socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to
build socialism and communism."

The Penal code specifies a range of vague criminal charges that can also
be used to stifle dissent, such as "social dangerousness", "enemy
propaganda", "contempt of authority", "resistance", "defamation of
national institutions" and "clandestine printing".

Provisions of Law 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the
Economy of Cuba have also been used to repress criticism and punish
dissidents who work with foreign media.

With a judiciary that is neither independent, nor impartial, critics of
the government find that an unlimited range of acts can be interpreted
as criminal and end up facing trials that are often summary and unfair.

Cuban authorities deny the existence of political prisoners in the
country but Amnesty International knows of at least 53 prisoners of
conscience who remain incarcerated in the country for peacefully
exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

One of 75 dissidents arrested in the "Black Spring" crackdown in 2003,
independent journalist Pablo Pacheco Avila, was sentenced to a 20-year
jail term for writing articles for foreign and online newspapers, being
interviewed by foreign radio stations, and publishing information via
the internet.

Despite some prisoners of conscience being released on health grounds,
including Ariel Sigler Amaya in June 2010, most of them, including Pablo
Pacheco Avila, are still imprisoned.

The Cuban government has sought to justify its failure to protect human
rights by pointing to the negative effects of the embargo imposed by the US.

"It is clear that the US embargo has had a negative impact on the
country but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the
Cuban people," said Kerrie Howard. "The government needs to find
solutions to end human right violations, instead of excuses to
perpetrate them."

Amnesty International called on the Cuban government to revoke or amend
legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression, end
harassment of dissidents, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow
free exchange of information through the internet and other media.

"The release of all prisoners of conscience and the end of harassment of
dissidents are measures that the Cuban government must take immediately
and unconditionally," said Kerrie Howard.

"However, to honour its commitment to human rights, Cuba must also
dismantle the repressive machinery built up over decades, and implement
the reforms needed to make human rights a reality for all Cubans."

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