Havana (AFP) – Cuba enacted a new penal code this week that activists and human rights groups warned Friday could further restrict freedom of expression and suppress protests at a time of simmering discontent on the island.
The law, a modified version of the country’s 1987 regulations approved by the Cuban government in May, will resonate with journalists, human rights activists, protesters, social media users and opposition figures.
The changes come amid growing discontent in Cuba over the deepening crises and as the government continues to impose penalties on participants — including children aged 16 to 18 — in the island’s historic 2021 protests. to 25 years.
Some of the changes include increasing minimum penalties and prison terms for things like “disrupting public order”, “resistance” and “insulting national symbols”.
The new law also defines criminal categories for digital crimes, saying that people who post any information deemed false online could face up to two years in prison.
It also prohibits receiving and using funds earmarked for financing activities “against the Cuban state and its constitutional system,” which human rights groups say could be used against independent journalists and non-state groups. Conviction can lead to four to ten years in prison.
The government described the new law as “modern” and “comprehensive,” citing tougher penalties for gender-based violence and racial discrimination. After it was approved, Rubén Remigio Ferro, President of Cuba’s Supreme Court, said on state television that the law was not meant to be repressive, but rather to protect “social peace and stability in our nation.”
But human rights watchdog groups, many of which are not allowed on the island, raised concerns about the new law on Friday.
“This is clearly an effort to provide a legal means of repression and censorship, and an effort by the Cuban authorities to undermine the limited civic space that exists on the island and impede the possibility of Cubans taking to the streets again,” Juan Papier said. Senior investigator for Human Rights Watch in Latin America.
Papier said, alongside an Amnesty International report, that the law “suffers from too broad language” that Cuban authorities could use to punish dissent more easily.
Cuba faced significant international criticism over its treatment of protesters at anti-government demonstrations in July 2021.
A total of 790 participants in the protests face trial for sedition, violent attacks, disturbing public order, theft and other crimes, according to the latest figures released in January by the Cuban attorney general’s office.
More than 500 of them are serving prison sentences, according to figures from opposition organization Justice 11J, which advocates for those who are on trial or serving prison sentences in connection with the protests.
This story was first published December 2, 2022. It was updated March 24, 2023 to show that while minors ages 16-18 who participated in protests in Cuba in 2021 faced prosecution, they received more lenient treatment from some of the older protesters. older. They are usually punished with community service or fines.