PEN America and PEN International warned today that a raft of new bills will create criminal prohibitions on publishing information online critical of the Cuban government, a direct attack on free expression
(New York | London) — A new package of cyber security laws introduced last week in Cuba threaten to further curtail online dissent and pose an ever-greater threat to free expression in a country wracked by mass protests in recent months. The newly-adopted Decree-Law 35 and Resolution 105 include new criminal prohibitions on publishing information online that is critical of the Cuban government. PEN International and PEN America today warned that these new regulations will deepen the government’s repression of dissenting voices online and must be understood in the context of the government’s continuing censorship and criminalization of free speech.
“The Cuban government’s response to its artists, journalists, and citizens in the face of protests has been one of increasing repression. These regulations threaten to further bury artistic and creative freedom in Cuba, giving authorities new tools by which to silence critical speech online,” said Julie Trebault, director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection program. “All of this is happening as Cuban authorities continue their constant harassment, threats, and arbitrary arrests against artists and journalists who have raised their voices in the full exercise of their human rights.”
The new regulations come after the historic July 11 protests, in which thousands of Cubans took to the streets demanding better living conditions. In response, President Miguel Díaz-Canel authorized the use of force and restricted access to social media in an attempt to control the flow of information inside and outside the country. The new regulations legalize authorities’ ability to sever the population’s access to telephone or internet service or to cut off access to social media in response to content that purportedly “incites mobilizations.”
“We strongly condemn the actions of Miguel Diaz-Canel’s government against critical voices. These new regulations appear to have been developed in direct response to the peaceful protests that have arisen in Cuba in recent months. As people in Cuba give voice to their concerns, it is telling that the government’s response appears to be focused on how to more effectively silence this expression. Cuban artists and writers have set an example of courage in confronting a repressive government that does not guarantee the full exercise of its citizens’ human rights. Art, literature and journalism will continue to be a common currency among people in spite of political or international upheaval,” said Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International.
The new regulations criminalize the dissemination of content “against the constitutional, social and economic precepts of the State” or that “incite[s] mobilizations or other acts that alter the public order,” as well as the dissemination of false news, offensive information, or “defamation impacting the prestige of the country.”
Decree Law 35 also establishes that users of any telecommunications and internet services in the country have the duty to prevent them from being used as a means “to attack the Security and Internal Order of the country, transmit false reports or news,” to commit “illegal acts,” or to transmit “offensive””information or information that affects “collective security, general welfare, public morality and respect for public order.” The crimes could be defined and punished by the Cuban Penal Code. The “dissemination of false news against international peace,” for instance, is punishable with a prison sentence of one to four years [Art. 115]. Resolution 105 could involve various crimes such as terrorism, sedition, or rebellion, all punishable for up to 20 years imprisonment or even death. •