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Human rights groups criticize Cuba’s new penal code


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HAVANA — Cuba this week enacted a new penal code that activists and human rights organizations warned on Friday could further limit freedom of expression and stifle protests at a time when discontent is getting worse on the island.

The code, an amended version of the country’s 1987 regulations approved by the Cuban government in May, will impact journalists, human rights activists, protesters, social media users and public figures. opposition.

The changes come amid growing discontent in Cuba produced by worsening crises and as the government continues to impose harsh sentences on participants – including minors – in the historic 2021 protests on the island.

Among some of the changes are increased minimum sentences and prison terms for things like “public disorder”, “resistance” and “insulting national symbols”.

The new code also establishes criminal categories for digital offences, stating that people spreading any information online deemed to be false could face up to two years in prison.

It also prohibits the receipt and use of funds intended to finance activities “against the Cuban state and its constitutional order”, which human rights groups say could be used against independent journalists and non-political groups. governmental. A conviction could lead to four to ten years in prison.

The government described the new code as “modern” and “inclusive”, pointing to tougher penalties for gender-based violence and racial discrimination. Following its approval, Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of Cuba’s Supreme Court, told state television that the code was not intended to repress, but rather to protect “social peace and the stability of our nation”. .

But human rights watchdog groups, many of which are not allowed on the island, sounded the alarm on Friday about the new code.

“This is clearly an effort to provide a legal avenue for repression and censorship and an effort by Cuban authorities to undermine what little civic space there is on the island and prevent the possibility of Cubans descending on the streets again,” said Juan Pappier, senior investigator for Human Rights Watch in Latin America.

Pappier, alongside an Amnesty International report, said the code was “rife with too broad language” that could be used by Cuban authorities to more easily punish dissent.

Cuba faced significant international criticism for the treatment of protesters during anti-government protests in July 2021.

A total of 790 protest participants face prosecution for sedition, violent attacks, public disorder, theft and other crimes, according to the latest figures released in January by Cuba’s attorney general’s office.

More than 500 are serving prison sentences, according to figures from the opposition organization Justice 11J, which defends those tried or serving prison sentences in connection with the protests.

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