The Cuban dictatorship deployed a large police force to repress the demonstrations ofJuly 11, 2022, which marked the one year anniversary of the historic protests that shook the island, in which tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets demanding an end to the regime and respect for human rights.
“The Cuban regime has condemned over 550 protestors to more than 4,000 combined years of prison or other punitive measures since the historic July 11, 2021 protests,”U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said via Twitter. “Those protestors who remain detained should be returned home to their families.”
Javier Larrondo, president of Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish human rightsnongovernmental organization (NGO), told Diálogo that the organization hasdocumented the detention of more than 5,000 protesters, who were lifted onto trucks, beaten, and forced under threat to utter the revolutionary motto Patria o Muerte (Homeland or Death). “The raidsand arrests continued with the confiscation and inspection of all the demonstrators’ cell phones, and the meticulous search of social networks, looking for the demonstrators’ faces,” he added.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented in July 2022 its report Prison or Exile: Cuba’s Systematic Repression of July 2021 Demonstrators, which covers the plight of hundreds of political prisoners whom the regime is holding behind bars. “Right violations committed in the context of the protests in Cuba follow patterns that strongly suggest the existence of a plan to prevent people from protesting, punish those who did, and instill fear to prevent massive […] demonstrations from taking place” against the regime, the report states.
The regime’s courts “have confirmed the convictions against more than 380 protesters and bystanders, including several children,” HRW continues. “Many trials took place before military courts, which contravenes international law.”
Larrondo stressed that the regime took advantage of the repression following the protests to arrest the main leaders of the opposition on the island, such as José Daniel Ferrer and Félix Navarro, and dozens of political opponents.
“In addition, the regime strengthened its persecution of churches and critical priests, arresting religious leaders and imprisoning some, such as Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, who was beaten with a bat and then detained, or Protestant pastors, such as Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo,” he added.
The crackdown throughout the year has also seen the trial of artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo, known as Osorbo, singers of the song Patria Y Vida(Homeland and Life), an anthem that protesters sang during the 2021 protests, and which earned them two Grammy awards. The artists were sentenced to five and nine years in prison respectively, for the alleged crimes of insulting patriotic symbols, contempt, and public disorder.
Otero Alcántara and Castillo are two emblematic examples of how the dictatorship of Miguel Díaz-Canel uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices, including through charges of alleged crimes that are incompatible with international law, said Érika Guevara Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International. “This is a shameful example of the human rights crisis caused by Cuba’s decades-long policy of repression. Amnesty condemns the criminalization of these prisoners of conscience, who are being held solely for exercising their rights.”
Other organizations also conducted detailed studies on the human rights conditions in Cuba in the aftermath of the July 11protests. Cubalex and Justicia 11J, NGOs that seek freedom for political prisoners in Cuba, presented on July 7 the report, One Year Without Justice: Patterns of State Violence Against Demonstrators of the 11th, showing “serious irregularities” in the protesters’ trials.
“Attempts to hold oral hearings by means of teleconference were observed in the trials of first or second instance of demonstrators accused of the crime of sedition in Havana and Holguin. A marked presence of military personnel has been observed inside the courtrooms where the oral hearing is held,”the report indicated.