Cuban Government Continues to Stifle Dissent, Despite Assertions that Freedom of Expression is Respected, Says New Amnesty International Report

Jun 30, 2010, 12:51 ET from Amnesty International

NEW YORK, June 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Cuba's government continues to stifle dissent through  arbitrary arrests, surveillance, intimidation and harassment of  journalists, dissidents and activists, despite recent assertions that  freedom of expression is respected inside Cuba, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.

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"Restrictions on freedom of expression in Cuba are systematic and  entrenched," said the 35-page report, Restrictions on Freedom of  Expression in Cuba, which highlights cases of journalists, writers,  government critics and others who have been harshly dealt with by a  government intent on silencing their views.

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

Amnesty International said provisions in the Cuban legal system and  government practices continue to restrict information provided to the  media and are 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  director of Amnesty International's Americas program.

Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez, 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.

Anzardo said: "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.

While Cuba's report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009 asserted  "wide-ranging debate" within the country, opinions critical of government  in reality are not permitted outside state-controlled arenas.

The Cuban Constitution states that none of the freedoms recognized for  citizens can be exercised "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 in prison for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of  expression, association and assembly.

They include independent journalist Pablo Pacheco Avila, one of 75  dissidents arrested in the 'Black Spring' crackdown in 2003, who 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 this month, most, 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 United States.

"It is clear that the U.S. 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 calls 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 Howard. "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."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist  organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and  volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights  worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and  mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,  freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org

SOURCE Amnesty International