Cuba: Joint statement on decree 370 and limits on freedom of expression

Cuba: Joint statement on decree 370 and limits on freedom of expression - Protection

Capitolio Nacional de la Habana “National Capitol building” in Havana, Cuba. Photo ©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

The undersigned civil society organizations express our profound concern and condemnation of
the persecution against independent journalists and civil society actors in Cuba. This persecution
has increased since the beginning of the year, particularly during the health crisis resulting from
the coronavirus pandemic.

Although repression of freedom of expression and freedom of press has been long-standing and
systematic, the current wave of repression has been intensified by the application of Legal
Decree 370 “On the computerization of Cuban society,” in force since July 4,
2019. At least 30 people have been subjected to interrogation, threats, and seizure of work
equipment (especially that of journalists) for broadcasting their opinions on social media, 20
have been victims of 3,000-peso fines (120 US dollars), an amount triple the average monthly
salary. Failure to pay these fines constitutes a crime punishable by six months in prison, a
systematic approach that has enabled the Cuban State to sentence 7 civil society actors who are
currently in prison.

We are particularly troubled by the arbitrary citations and detentions occurring during this
pandemic, as they also contradict the recommendations of the World Health Organization to
promote social distancing.

These facts demonstrate that the rights enshrined in the Cuban Constitution, but which have not
been ratified with supplementary legislation, are merely empty words. Regarding freedom of
expression, Article 54 of the Constitution states: “The State recognizes, upholds, and guarantees individuals’ freedom of thought, belief and expression,” and Article 55 asserts that “freedom of press” is a right that “is exercised in accordance with the law and to the good of society.” Additionally, this article establishes that “The principal means of social
communication, in any of its forms and on any of its mediums, are the socialist property of the
people or the political, social and grassroots organizations; and they are not subject to any
other type of ownership. The State establishes the principles of organization and operation for
all social media.”

We understand that these constitutional principles are highly contradictory. Initially, they
recognize the freedoms of expression and press, and immediately thereafter, they restrict their
exercise. In accordance with the Constitution, Legal Decree 370, specifically Article 68,
Subsection i), vaguely establishes as a violation the act of “spreading information contrary to
the common good, morals, decency, and integrity through public data transmission networks.”
This clause contravenes the standards of freedom of expression and restricts this right based on
objectives that are illegitimate according to the International Declaration of Human Rights.
ESTATEMENT The new Cuban Constitution, Legal Decree 370, and the actions of the Cuban State deeply
contradict Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed by Cuba on February 28,
2008 but not since ratified. This framework, under which the Cuban State can sanction the use of
information and communication technologies, inhibits the exercise of freedom of expression using
such tools and platforms. Furthermore, it represents a real and ongoing threat of punishment for
practically any opinion expressed that could be classified, at the State’s discretion, as a legal
violation and lead to imprisonment. Additionally, this lack of predictability has a prohibitive and
intimidating effect on the collective dimension of freedom of expression and assembly.

We want to emphasize that Reporters Without Borders has listed Cuba as the country with the
least press freedom in the Americas, placing it in 171st place and among the bottom ten in the
global ranking in its last annual report. According to Freedom House, Cuba is the country with
the least freedom on the net in the Americas and the fourth worst in the world, among the 65
countries monitored. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks the freedoms of
association, expression and peaceful assembly, its civic space is rated as “closed”.

In 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of
opinion and expression expressed his concern about the diverse mechanisms of repression in
Cuba. In his 2019 report, the Inter-American Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression outlined the
systematic persecution of independent journalists who publish information and opinions on topics
of public interest and in his statement on April 18, 2020, he expressed his concern with
restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information in the State’s response to
COVID-19, highlighting the cases of journalists fined under Legal Decree 370.

We call on the international community, governments, civil society and international human rights
organizations to press the Cuban government to cease this persecution and harassment of
independent Cuban journalists and their families immediately, to return their confiscated
belongings, and to allow them the full and free exercise of their freedoms, thereby granting the
Cuban citizenry free access to information.

To the European External Action Service (EEAS), we urge you to follow the stances and explicit
mandate of your Parliament regarding the Agreement of Political Dialogue and Cooperation with
Cuba, requesting that legal reforms be made to guarantee the freedoms of press, association and
demonstration. We also incite you to actively support the civil society groups and individuals
defending human rights in Cuba.

To the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner, we
petition you to make a public declaration recommending that the Cuban State revise its legislation
and abolish any norms that restrict freedom of opinion and expression.

We appeal to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), to take a
stand and apply the same standards as required for all of the countries in the region, based on the
reports of the IACHR on the human rights situation in Cuba. Cuba is a member state of the OAS
and has not denounced the Charter. It assumed an obligation when it signed the Inter-American
system’s instruments on human rights, and its current suspension does not release it from
complying this obligation.

We reiterate our full solidarity with the independent journalists and civil society actors persecuted
for exercising their freedom of expression.

Undersigned Organisations

Alas Tensas
Alianza Regional por la Libre
Expresión e Información
Árbol Invertido: Cuba, cultura y
ARTICLE 19 Oficina para México
y Centroamérica
Asociación Pro-Libertad de Prensa
Centro Para la Apertura y el
Desarrollo de América Latina
Civil Rights Defenders
Corriente Martiana
Cultura Democrática
Demo Amlat
Diario de Cuba
El Estornudo
Freedom House
Fundación Ciudadania y Desarrollo
Grupo Demóngeles
Hora de Cuba
Human Rights Foundation
IFEX-ALC Alianza de América
Latina y el Caribe
Instituto Cubano para la libertad de
Expresión y Prensa
International Institute on Race,
Equality and Human Rights
International Society For Human
Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud
Movimiento San Isidro
Observatorio Cubano de Derechos
PEN America
People In Need
Prisoners Defenders International
Programa Cuba de la Universdad
Sergio Arboleda
Programa Venezolano de Educación –
Acción en Derechos Humanos
Puente a la Vista
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe
para la Democracia
Reporteros Sin Fronteras
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Transparencia Electoral
Tremenda Nota
Voces del Sur
Havana Time


Lee en español: Cuba: El Decreto Ley 370 debe ser declarado inconstitucional pues atenta contra la libertad de expresión y de prensa