Amnesty report: Cuba stifles dissent, creates climate of fear inhibiting freedom of expression

By Will Weissert, AP
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Amnesty: Cuba courts complicit in stifling dissent

HAVANA — Cuba uses repressive laws, a well-oiled state security apparatus and complicit courts to stifle political dissent as it harasses, spies on and imprisons those who openly oppose its communist system, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.

The 35-page analysis said restrictions on expressing views deviating from the official line are “systematic and entrenched,” despite the government’s taking “some limited steps to address long-standing suppression of freedom of expression.”

Cuba’s government did not respond to a request for comment. It routinely dismisses international human rights groups as tools of the United States.

Amnesty found that things have not improved since February 2008, when Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and it blasted official prohibitions on individual liberties in the name of national security and in response to Washington’s 48-year trade sanctions.

“No matter how detrimental its impact, the U.S. embargo is a lame excuse for violating the rights of citizens, as it can in no way diminish the obligation on the Cuban government to protect, respect and fulfill the human rights of all Cubans,” the report said.

It was compiled using sources on and off the island but contained no firsthand research since Amnesty has been banned from visiting Cuba since 1990.

Cuba’s human rights situation has been tense since the Feb. 23 death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, considered by Amnesty International a prisoner of conscience, after a long hunger strike behind bars. Another opposition activist, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to eat or drink since then, though he has received fluids and nutrients intravenously at a hospital near his home in central Cuba.

Both cases drew international condemnation which has softened some since the government reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to transfer political prisoners held far from their families to facilities closer to home, and to give better access to medical care for inmates who need it.

That led to the transfer of seven prisoners and the release for health reasons of Ariel Sigler, who became a paraplegic while imprisoned. All were among 75 activists, community organizers and journalists who defy island controls on media arrested in a crackdown on organized dissent in March 2003.

The Amnesty report noted that through the decades, “hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned in Cuba for the peaceful expression of their views.”

“The legal, bureaucratic and administrative infrastructure built up over the years to silence government opponents and maintain the one party system remains largely intact,” it said, adding that those opponents “continue to be intimidated and harassed, arbitrarily detained or imprisoned after unfair, often summary, trials.”

Cuba says it holds no political prisoners and safeguards human rights by providing citizens with free education and health care, as well as heavily subsidized housing, utilities, transportation and food.

Still, Wednesday’s report states that even dissidents outside prison face temporary detentions, interrogations and warnings at police stations, concluding that such intimidation has served to “create a climate of fear in Cuban society.”

Cuba’s criminal code offers an array of charges to limit dissent, according to the report, including pre-criminal dangerousness, enemy propaganda, contempt of authority, rebellion, acts against state security, distribution of false news and, simply, resistance.

“The lack of independence and impartiality of the judiciary means that these vaguely worded offenses have been used to punish the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression,” it said.

Cuba can arrest citizens accused of having a “dangerous disposition,” the report said. Those convicted of potentially committing a crime can be sentenced to therapy, police surveillance or reeducation.

Authorities also ensure citizens remain cut off from opposition views, Amnesty found, by maintaining a virtual monopoly on media. It noted that the “Law of Security of Information” prohibits Internet access from home for most Cubans, but praised island bloggers who provide uncensored information in defiance of state website filters.

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