Food shortages, rising prices, lack of employment — these are some of the challenges that led thousands of Cubans onto the streets in July 2021, in what were considered the largest protests in Cuba in decades.
According to human rights groups, more than 1,000 people were arrested during the protests. Now, these citizens may be facing years behind bars, international news agencies, such as the English broadcasting company BBC, reported.
In mid-December 2021, the Cuban judicial system began the trials of more than 700 people facing criminal charges such as sedition, vandalism, theft, and public disorder, the Cuban Office of the Attorney General said in a statement. Family members and human rights organizations have criticized the trials as unfair, claiming that the sentences are disproportionate.
“Everybody came out [onto the streets], […]. But no one thought [the regime] would take it so harshly […]. They went too far…imposing sentences of so many years, as if [the protesters] were terrorists, murderers,” said Cuban national Emilio Roman to Reuters. Roman is the father of three young adults, ages 18, 23, and 25, who were arrested during the protests. If convicted, his children could spend up to 25 years in prison.
Human right groups say that the Cuban regime is using the protesters’ trials as a way to silence its people. “Their goal is that nobody, nowhere on the island of Cuba, goes to the streets to speak out again,” said Laritza Diversent, director of Cubalex, a U.S.-based legal aid and human rights organization.
Young people in prison
Of the 710 people facing charges, most have been held in detention while awaiting trial, the BBC said. The accused include 115 people between the ages of 16 and 20. There are 55 youth between the ages of 16 and 18, of whom 28 are in custody, according to the Cuban Office of the Attorney General. In Cuba, people can be prosecuted as adults since the age of 16. This is the case of Gabriela Zequeira, 17, who was sentenced to eight months in prison for public disorder. In a BBC report, Zequeira’s mother said she did not know where her daughter had been transferred to after the trial.
Minors under 16 have also been targeted by the Cuban regime. Cuban authorities said that 27 teenagers under the age of 16 were arrested during the demonstrations. Ten of them were admitted to “comprehensive and behavioral training schools” for their participation in the protests with adults, and 17 teenagers “received individualized attention at the National Education System school” they are attending, the Cuban Office of the Attorney General said.
Human rights organizations are worried that the information communicated by Cuban authorities is only part of the reality. “The list of teenagers arrested and convicted in Cuba today, as in the past, is partial, since a large number of cases are unknown because families are afraid to report them,” said the U.S.-based Center for a Free Cuba.