As the first anniversary of the historic protests that erupted on July 11, 2021 in several cities across the country about to be marked, DIARIO DE CUBA spoke with three Cuban jurists about the arrests, the charges brought, and the human rights violations committed by the regime against the demonstrators.
Former judge Edel González Jiménez pointed out that the arrests specifically violated "constitutional and special regulations like the Criminal Procedure Law, linked to the principles of legality and that of criminal specialty."
"There are requirements and provisions for detention that were ignored. There had to be minimal evidence of an offence, under the Criminal Code, or certain indications of participation in order to proceed with the arrests."
"Demonstrating, expressing oneself, criticizing the Government, should never be viewed as a crime," González Jiménez remarked, referring to the words of the president of the Supreme Court of Cuba, Rubén Remigio Ferro, who acknowledged in a press conference that demonstrating was a constitutional right of Cubans. Hence, González Jiménez believes that there should not have been so many arrests, and that they were "arbitrary, according to International Law."
The application of the crime of sedition, in this case, was "the Cuban state's cry of desperation in the face of these protests."
Concurring with him, jurist and former Law professor at the University of Havana Julio Fernández Estrada pointed to "flagrant violations of the Constitution of the Republic" and due process regulations through the arbitrary arrests. "The authorities beat people who were demonstrating peacefully on the street, without them having attacked law enforcement officials. There were clashes that led to the death of a person, and we don't even know what kind of proceedings are being carried out to try the murderer of (Diubis) Laurencio (Tejeda) in La Güinera."
"There were many accusations of physical and psychological torture," noted the jurist, adding that the arbitrary actions "when collecting and presenting evidence, classifying and applying the criminal law, for crimes as serious as sedition, even against people who demonstrated peacefully, and not to overthrow the regime, or oppose the Constitution, but rather as part of a spontaneous citizen protest. The fact that the crime of sedition, eminently political, was levelled, gives one an idea of the impact that the protests had on the Government."
The bringing of this charge, despite international criticism, and from the independent press, and the population, Fernández Estrada said, was due to the fact that "the fundamental objective of these proceedings after July 11 was to make an example of them and to intimidate anyone considering engaging in similar protests."
The use of the crime of sedition in this case, he said, "is a cry of desperation by the Cuban State in the face of these protests. It was the State that was responsible for the most extreme politicization of this event, as it deemed spontaneous demonstrations, in a large number of cities across the country, acts of sedition."
González Jiménez pointed directly to calls for a civic march on November 15 to explain the charge of sedition.
"The radical shift in the charges brought by the Prosecutor's Office, and then improperly admitted by the court, is striking. After 11 July, the most common charge was that of simply disturbing the peace, and, to a lesser extent, incitement of a crime. For these crimes, individuals would be given sentences ranging from 8 months to 1 year of incarceration, depending on their ages and the circumstances of their participation in the protests."
"But another popular demonstration began to be organized, slated for 15 November, using institutional channels. They knew that thousands of people were going to turn out, and became afraid of the results. Therefore, they implemented a media and legal scare campaign, requesting the political crime of sedition, and irrational punishments to discourage new protests, both organized and other spontaneous initiatives."
"The values of humanity, commitment and sensitivity that the Revolution sowed in families have crumbled."
Maylin Fernández Suris, a former judge who presided over the Family section of the Santa Clara Municipal Court, believes that Cuban society has lost its faith in justice.
"They did not expect such a repressive and violent response to the demonstrations. Personally, as a Cuban, I was very surprised by the position taken by those in power. "The values of humanity, commitment and sensitivity that the Revolution sowed in families have crumbled." Much damage and suffering have been inflicted on Cuban mothers, in addition to institutional neglect, with regards to the detainees' situations. Although the Cuban legal system is quite closed, from an ideological point of view, the moment was propitious for the State to reconcile and recognize rights and freedoms, because there are also legal mechanisms for this. However, it chose to tighten its fist, to widen the gap and engage in more discrimination for political reasons."
It is very difficult for those indicted in Cuba to be acquitted
Regarding the low number of acquittals, despite the criticism that the regime was already receiving for its quashing of the protests, Fernández Estrada maintained that "acquittal at that time was not a solution."
"The courts do not act independently, they receive direct instructions from the Cuban State and, therefore, from the Party (Communist Party of Cuba), because the Party controls the State in Cuba, as per Article 5 of the Constitution," he explained.
In his view, the acquittals were due to a total lack of evidence. He also pointed out that the president of the Supreme Court himself recognized, in 2018, with satisfaction (as shown in a video revealed by DIARIO DE CUBA) that these constituted just 6% to 8% of cases.
It is very difficult for the accused in Cuba to be acquitted, he explained, because the courts themselves return files to prosecutors with guidance on how to strengthen their cases in order to win, something that is also documented in the aforementioned video.
"The aim was to punish them and make it clear that the State would not hesitate one bit to treat as enemies of the Government, the system and the political regime anyone who thought that the right to demonstrate was something that could be freely exercised on any given day."
González Jiménez, who was a judge in Cuba for 17 years, says that in Cuba he did not have to explain the most serious sentences he handed down, such as life terms, but rather his acquittals.
"In situations such as those of 11J, secret instructions are also generated that are not published in the Official Gazette, and failure to comply with those instructions results in disciplinary consequences for the violator," he explained.
In the context of the trials and convictions, former judge Fernández Suris believes that "all the organizations failed, from those that are supposed to handle complaints and petitions, to those whose mission it is to attend to women and minors: the Federation of Cuban Women, and the Prosecutor's Office, as a watchdog of legality. ?I am not aware of any cases of a deputy or a member of the Women and Family Orientation Houses showing an interest in the situations of families living in the community; those with juvenile detainees, with mothers who are raising their children alone because their father is in prison."
González Jiménez believes that similar protests could occur, and advises civil society to organize such actions in an orderly way so that "it can stand up to the violence wielded against it, so that its actions are not dismissed as vandalism." He also recommends "not to renounce Law in writing, however restrictive it may be." He believes that it is important to orient not just the people as to how to do things, but state employees too. ?Changes must be demanded of them, or civic processes of revocation must be promoted."
"Justice, the rule of law, democracy, legality and human rights were subverted"
Fernández Estrada is less optimistic about the legal channels in Cuba, and finds it difficult to advise family members and lawyers regarding a similar outburst.
"Lawyers cannot do their jobs without direct intervention by the Party, the Ministry of the Interior, State Security and the National Organization of Collective Law Firms itself, which is led by the Ministry of Justice, although it is, nominally, an NGO," he explained.
"Everyone knows that they can receive political or ideological pressure at any time," he said. Therefore, he concludes that the lawyers who defended 11J protesters "did what they could."
His concern also extends to the teaching of Law in Cuba, as he ponders what it now is for those who teach it.
"This is a context in which justice, the rule of law, democracy, legality and human rights were subverted," he says. "People are witnessing how the administration of justice, the rules, the protection of rights, are all trampled on when it is a supreme objective of the State to make an example of people who oppose it in some way, by punishing them."