If the unprecedented and massive protests against the government in July last year shocked Cuba like never before, the impact of the high sentences against 128 protesters in Havana charged with sedition has also been shocking. The severe sanctions -which in the case of 56 defendants were between 15 and 30 years in prison- have provoked a barrage of criticism and reactions on social networks, where various intellectuals, artists and relatives of the prisoners have called for their release and a amnesty, rejecting sentences that they consider “unjust”, “excessive” and “exemplary”. Even figures close to the Government have asked the authorities to rectify. “As far as I know, no one was killed. Sentences of 15, 20 and 30 years for public disorder? It doesn’t seem fair to me,” said singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez.
The Supreme Court of Cuba announced on Wednesday the rulings of six trials held against the participants in the marches of July 11 and 12 last in two neighborhoods of Havana, which led to violent acts and left one dead by police shots . The accusations were mainly for sedition, and the sentences imposed range from six to 30 years in prison. According to various NGOs, among them there are seven young people aged 16 and 17, who have received sentences of between 7 and 19 years in prison.
After the ruling was known, the signs of rejection began on the networks and the questioning of the authorities, something increasingly common. Renowned actor Luís Alberto García summed up the feelings of many Internet users: “Is the purpose of these long sentences for a group of young people throughout the country to instill fear? That ‘the lesson’ avoid any dissent in the future? That never again a person born and resident in this land dares to shout ‘I’m not happy’, ‘I’m not happy’, ‘I don’t like your government management’, ‘I don’t feel free’? The fines exist, the house arrests exist, the obligation to compensate the economic damages caused, as well. But 10 years in prison, 15, 23, 30?… They are disproportionate. Very disproportionate.”
This Monday, the independent digital media The Young Cuba and The touch they published a call Manifesto against silence, for justice, signed by more than 40 Cuban intellectuals and artists, mostly residents on the island but also abroad. They assert that what happened in Cuba in July was a “social outbreak expressed through civil disobedience, the result of government mismanagement of the economy and authoritarian ways of managing the sociopolitical conflict and participation in Cuba,” and which had “as a response a repressive deployment of the military forces of the State.”
With the trials and the high sentences, the Government now acts with “a disproportionate and methodical political and legal violence, which far exceeds the specific and spontaneous episodes of violence committed during the outbreak by some citizens,” says the document, which has, among others, the signatures of the prestigious filmmaker Fernando Pérez, the writer and translator Alex Fleites, the journalist Jorge Fernández Era, the historians Alina Bárbara López Hernández and Leonardo Fernández Otaño, as well as renowned economists such as Omar Everleny, Pedro Monreal, Mauricio de Miranda and Carmelo Mesa-Lago.
The manifesto demands the release of the prisoners and indicates that “the concrete way to initiate such a proceeding —by an amnesty or similar formula— can be the subject of debate; its substance does not. It also considers that “there is a disproportion of the sentences, violations of the current procedural standards —according to Cuban and international legislation— and an exemplary display of the processes by the national state press,” concluding that “the sentences handed down are public ridicule against the entire Cuban society —beyond ideological sympathies or political militancy— to prevent any attempt of active protagonism of people in the destinies of their country”.
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The signatories, among whom is the writer Rafael Rojas and the artist and activist Tania Bruguera -Velázquez prize for plastic arts 2021-, call on their “colleagues” to accompany them in the complaint. “It is a general intellectual duty of academics and artists, in any age and society, to condemn violence and arbitrariness without double standards; without ideological dispensations or subterfuges of realpolitik”. On Monday it was also learned that a group of 35 mothers and relatives of those imprisoned for the July events formed an association to request amnesty for those convicted.
Although various sources and relatives of the defendants reported before that numerous people had been sentenced in various parts of the country to heavy penalties for the July protests, the first official data from the Supreme Court on the convictions for sedition against 128 people had great repercussions, And not just online. Various anti-Castro media have published these days photos and personal data of the judges and prosecutors who have participated in the processes, before which on Sunday official Cuban institutions closed ranks and came out to defend the legality of the trials and sentences.
“These days we have been observing how algorithms and subversive opinion matrices are articulated that try to discredit the actions of prosecutors and judges, mostly young, who professionally face the strictest procedural principle of effective judicial protection and due process after the facts. vandalism that took place on July 11, 2021,” said the president of the Havana board of directors of the National Union of Jurists of Cuba (UNJC), Osmín Álvarez Bencomo. The UNJC expressed its “indignation” at “the disqualifications of extremely serious criminal conduct that were typified and sanctioned as a result of these events for sedition, as it involved the collective and violent uprising of a group of people against authorities and public order in order to to overthrow him.”
The Government does not recognize that what happened in July was a “social explosion”, but considers it an attempt to “violently subvert the constitutional order” by obeying “instructions given by people both from Cuba and from abroad”, after which , he says, is the hand of the United States.
Actually, the consequences of the sentences and the reaction of public opinion have heated up the atmosphere like few times before. According to the official media Cubadebate, the statement issued by the UNJC underlines: “Cuban jurists, especially those from the capital, categorically reject and confront any attempt at media manipulation and warn that, against anyone who tries to subvert justice that in the name of the people of Cuba imparted, through threats or disrepute, or simply by providing information, the full weight of the law will fall.” And he adds: “For each threatened colleague, we will multiply it by tens of thousands throughout the length and breadth, ready to change the toga and the dais if necessary for the rifle and the trench.”
Also in social networks things are hot; Among the most reproduced comments these days is that of the troubadour Silvio Rodríguez, who on March 17 said: “If they committed the acts of violence of which they are accused, I agree that they be tried and that the corresponding penalties be applied. But as far as I know they didn’t kill anyone. Sentences of 15, 20 and 30 years for public disorder? It doesn’t seem fair to me. The ages of those sentenced are not clarified either. With this the enemies of Cuba are harvesting. Let’s not allow it, being transparent and rectifying what needs to be rectified”.
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