Six months after the massive demonstrations of July 11 of last year, hundreds of Cubans arrested for participating in protests against the government are tried in various courts in the country on charges of contempt, public disorder, incitement to commit a crime, attack and in some cases are as serious as sedition, which can carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison.
The information is confusing and difficult to verify, since the authorities have not provided official data on how many people were detained during or after the incidents, nor on how many Cubans are still in prison, nor on the trials already carried out and the sentences imposed. Nor has anything been said about the processes that remain to be aired, and not even at this point has it been reported how many demonstrations were peaceful and how many were violent on 11-J, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets of more than 60 cities and towns of Cuba to protest the harsh living conditions and demand freedom, in the largest demonstrations against the Government in 62 years of revolution.
Beyond the occasional complaints from the relatives of the prisoners, the only sources that offer global data on what is happening with the detainees are anti-Castro NGOs such as Cubalex or Prisoners Defenders, which calculate that at least a thousand people have been imprisoned as a result of the events of July 11, of which it is estimated that between 600 and 700 are still in prison awaiting trial, some minors. Of a group of more than 200 cases that Cubalex claims to have documented, for 25 people the Prosecutor’s Office requests sanctions of up to 5 years, 63 face charges of between 6 and 10 years in prison, another 27 face requests of between 11 and 15 years. , while 49 could spend between 16 and 20 years behind bars and another 46 between 20 and 30 years for sedition, if the requests of the public ministry are ratified.
The Government neither confirms these data nor denies them. The national press does not inform the official media of the processes and the foreign press has not had access to the oral hearings, so that the information only flows in a trickle through the relatives. A group of them reported that a trial began on Tuesday against 21 residents of Holguín who participated in the demonstrations in that eastern city, which at times led to violence. The prosecutors’ requests in this case range from 15 to 30 years in prison, for sedition charges.
Another trial began on Monday in the central city of Santa Clara against 16 young people, while from the province of Artemisa, another group of relatives reported that 13 protesters – who were tried in mid-November – received their sentence last week: sentences ranging from 4 years limited supervised release to 12 years in jail.
Dissident sources reported that in the town of Bejucal, 30 kilometers from Havana, a trial for contempt, public disorder, outrage against the symbols of the country and sabotage against seven local youths, including the student of music Abel González Lescay, for whom the Prosecutor’s Office asks for seven years in prison. The affected person studies at the Higher Institute of Art and has been supported by his university after his case hit the press. The young man said that on 11-J he took to the streets and demonstrated peacefully, but the next day he was arrested at his home for appearing in a video. He assured that while acquaintances of his were fined and released, he was sentenced to house arrest pending trial. “The only difference between them and me is that they have a video of me calling a policeman a fagot,” he clarified.
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Other cases were recently dismissed, such as that of the artists who met on July 11 at the doors of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television to demand 15 minutes before the television cameras, after which they were arrested and subjected to house arrest. —In this group was the playwright Yunior García, the main organizer of the frustrated march for change on November 15, who later went into exile in Spain—.
The Cuban government includes the events of 11-J in its old dispute with the US, assuring that the demonstrations were instigated and manipulated by Washington and that in many towns and cities in the country they led to acts of vandalism, looting and violent actions. However, numerous voices within the island, including personalities related to the Government such as the troubadour Silvio Rodríguez, have demanded proportionality from the authorities and the release of the protesters who did not participate in violent acts, especially criticizing the use of the criminal figure of “sedition” to prosecute detainees.
“The requested sentences are excessive and obviously exemplary,” says the historian and coordinator of the La Joven Cuba portal, Alina Bárbara López Hernández, who believes that “the prosecutorial requests are very high and not subject to law: for example, to Abel Lescay, student at the University of Art Sciences, they ask him for seven years in prison for demonstrating in his town, shouting insults at the President of the Republic and refusing to be arrested inside his home. In another case, for publicly tearing up a portrait of Fidel Castro, they are seeking 10 years in prison. There are higher sentences: 12, 15, 20 and 25 years”.
Relatives of Cubans detained as a result of the 11-J incidents asked more than 30 embassies in Havana to accompany the processes “as observers”, while the US government last week sanctioned eight senior Cuban officials “involved in the detention, the sentencing and incarceration of peaceful protesters on July 11.” Previously, Washington had sanctioned another nine officials, mostly army and police officers, related to the repression of the protests. Official media described the sanctions as “a new attempt by the US government to interfere in the internal affairs of Cuba, try to mediate the administration of justice in the country and try to protect the elements that, largely financed by Washington, intend to subvert the political and social order of Cuba”.
The lack of transparency is a key issue at the moment. “The information we receive is that which exists on social networks and alternative media, as a result of complaints from relatives, friends or independent jurists; therefore, they are fluctuating and inaccurate data. Lack of official information on the number of detainees, the dates of the trials, the tax petitions and the resulting sentences,” López said.
Along the same lines, the Cuban academic and former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray recently pointed out that “at this point there is still no figure for detainees or information on how many demonstrations took place, how many were peaceful, how many generated disturbances, or how many citizens participated. And, of course, there are voices calling for the release of everyone who protested peacefully, including singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, highly respected in government circles.”
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