[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [official website] on Wednesday criticized the Cuban legal system [report, PDF], stating that the government’s restrictions on freedom of expression create a “climate of fear” among journalists and activists. The report claims that the Cuban legal system allows the government to restrict content provided to the media [press release] and to use the restricted content to prosecute hundreds of dissidents. AI said that Cuba’s criminal code is vague and can easily be interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental freedoms. The report stated that the laws, which are used to curb legitimate expression of opinion and dissent, are coupled with a corrupt police force and a biased judiciary, leading to several arbitrary arrests and convictions.
The current legal framework and the way in which it is enforced by the authorities seriously limits freedom of expression. … People continue to face unfounded criminal prosecution, as well as harassment and intimidation by state security and police officials, for expressing and distributing information or opinions critical of the government. Unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression are underpinned by other restrictions on human rights, such as the rights to freedom of association, of peaceful assembly and of movement. Arbitrary detention, interrogations and warnings at police stations, and other forms of temporary arrests are frequently used by the authorities to intimidate individuals critical of the prevailing state system. … The judiciary is neither independent nor impartial and allows criminal proceedings to be brought against those critical of the government as a mechanism to prevent, deter or punish them for expressing dissenting views. The complicity of the state judicial system in prosecuting government critics, often in summary trials that fail to meet international fair trial standards has a profound chilling effect on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
The state-run media has a monopoly over broadcast media and the press, as private ownership of mass media is prohibited under the Cuban constitution. To circumvent the private media blockade, many Cubans rely the Internet and new communications technologies to express ideas and opinions. These technologies are less regulated by the government, allowing Cubans to receive and impart information for which they would otherwise be prosecuted. Several small independent press agencies still operate within Cuba illegally but are regularly facing prosecution for news that goes against the government’s grain.
The report follows a statement released by AI in March urging the Cuban authorities [JURIST report] to “revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association and to release all dissidents unfairly detained by the authorities.” Also in March, the US State Department [official website] criticized Cuba for interfering with the right to privacy in its 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials; JURIST report]. In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] claiming that the Cuban government continued to repress dissidents and violate fundamental civil liberties of Cubans, and resorted to imposing short-term imprisonment measures to elude international critique. According to a February 2009 report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish], the number of political prisoners in Cuba had declined [JURIST report] from 234 in January 2008 to 205, while the number of brief detentions had increased. In 2008, Cuba was ranked 170th in the eighth annual Worldwide Index of Press Freedom [JURIST report] issued by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website].