Freedom of Speech in Cuba.


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1. Cuba, the world's biggest prison for journalists

Pages on independent journalists in Cuba

"Gagging Law"

Promulgated in February 1999, the "88 Law" – soon nicknamed the "gagging law" in dissident circles – weighs like the Sword of Damocles over any person who "collaborates, by any means whatsoever, with radio or television programmes, magazines or any other foreign media" or "provides information" considered likely to serve US policy. The law provides for very heavy sentences: up to 20 years' imprisonment, confiscation of all personal belongings and fines up to 100,000 pesos (close to 4,800 dollars, while the average Cuban salary is 250 pesos or 12 dollars per month). This law, that no court has taken advantage of as yet, also provides for punishment for "the promotion, organisation or encouragement of, or the participation in meetings or demonstrations.

Gagging Law text (Spanish)

In Cuba, they don't just censor you now - they throw you in jail.Independent journalists in jail in Cuba

President Fidel Castro's police rounded up 26 independent journalists on 18 March, along with more than 50 political dissidents, all for the same reason. At the beginning of April, Cuban courts dispatched each of these journalists to prison for between 14 and 27 years after three days of sham trials. They were punished for allegedly working with the United States "against the independence and territorial integrity of the state," which is a crime under article 91 of the Cuban criminal code and under article 88 on "protecting national independence" (known as the "gag law").

Those targeted had regularly published articles in the foreign press, mostly American, since no independent or privately-owned newspaper or radio or TV station is allowed in Cuba, and had recently dared to start up two underground publications in Cuba itself - "De Cuba" and "Luz Cubana" - which was unprecedented in the 44 years of President Castro's rule.

This new persecution of political opponents and independent journalists, as well as the execution on 11 April of three would-be refugees who hijacked a ferry in a bid to reach Florida, has revolted democrats around the world, even leading the European Union to reconsider its future economic cooperation with Cuba.

Reporters Without Borders invites the public to sign a petition calling for the immediate release of the 26 journalists, who have been thrown in jail to stop them speaking out freely.

The arrests mean Cuba is now the world's biggest prison for journalists and that President Castro has become the "Maximum Leader" of predators of press freedom.


Reporters Without Borders on Cuba


Each of these men:


List of journalists in prison:

Also see the CPJ site:


Cuba: back to darkness

Urgent message for Latin American, European and Canadian officials who welcomed Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit to Cuba as a sign of a new opening on the island: You should read Cuba's new gag law against independent thinkers. It's a return to the darkest ages of Soviet communism or European fascism.

The Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba -- better known as Law No. 88 -- was passed by Cuba's rubber-stamp National Assembly last month, but its full text is only now beginning to circulate among foreign governments and human rights groups.

Judging from a copy I received this week, it's not only directed against Cuba's courageous independent journalists but could be applied to any Cuban who writes a letter abroad complaining about Cuba's problems, or -- God forbid -- suggesting that the Maximum Leader may be less than perfect.

Among its key provisions:

  •  Article 6: Sets prison terms from three to eight years for those ``who accumulate, reproduce or spread material of subversive character from the government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials, or from any other foreign entity [my italics].''

    Target: any publication sent by foreign pro-democracy groups, which often smuggle into the island copies of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, or banned books like George Orwell's Animal Farm and biographies of Martin Luther King and Mohandas K. Ghandi.


  •  Article 7: Sets penalties from two to five years in prison for ``anyone who . . . collaborates in any way with foreign radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other mass media with the purpose of . . . destabilizing the country and destroying the socialist state.'' The penalties rise to three to eight years in prison if such collaboration ``is carried out for profit.''

    Target: Cuba's independent journalists, who are not allowed to work in state-controlled media, and sell their reports to foreign media. Many of them have become a more reliable source of news than the Communist Party's daily Granma or the government's news agency Prensa Latina.


  •  Article 9: Sets prison terms of seven to 15 years to ``anyone who . . . carries out any action aimed at hindering or hurting economic relations of the Cuban state.''

    Target: Could be applied against any Cuban who complains to a foreigner about the state of the economy, since such information can lead a potential foreign business partner not to invest on the island.


  •  Article 11: Sets prison terms of three to eight years to ``anyone who . . . directly or through third parties, receives, distributes or participates in the distribution of financial, material or other resources, from the government of the United States, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials or private entities [my italics].''

    Target: The paragraph is aimed at prohibiting religious or other nongovernmental organizations from sending money, computers or fax machines to independent groups or individuals in Cuba.

    Conclusion: While Law 88 is ostensibly aimed at countering the ``U.S. economic war on Cuba,'' its real target is not the U.S. government -- which has been trying to build bridges to Cuba lately -- but Cuba's independent journalists, independent civic groups on the island, and U.S. and European nongovernmental organizations trying to help them.

    ``It's lamentable,'' Pierre Shori, Sweden's minister of international cooperation, told me in a telephone interview Wednesday. ``This kind of free movement of thought should be allowed: It's part of the modern world. No man is an island, and neither can be Cuba.''


    Published Thursday, March 18, 1999, in the Miami Herald
    Andres Oppenheimer Andres Oppenheimer is a foreign correspondent and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize.




    2. Cuba's abusive laws aimed a repressing dissent:


    1.. Article 144, which defines the crime of desacato, or "disrespect." It states that anyone who threatens, slanders, defames, insults, harms or in anyway outrages or offends, verbally or in writing, the dignity or honor of an authority, public official, or their agents or auxiliaries, in the exercise of their functions or because of them can be imprisoned for between three months and one year or fined or both. If the act of disrespect is directed at the head of state or other senior officials the penalty is a
    prison term from one to three years.

    2.. Articles 208 and 209, which define the crime of asociación ilícita, or "illicit association." These articles state that anyone belonging to an unregistered association can be fined or imprisoned for between one and
    three months. The promoters or leaders of such an association can be fined or imprisoned for between three months and a year. Anyone who participates in illegal meetings or demonstrations can be fined or imprisoned for between one and three months. The organizers of illegal meetings or demonstrations can be fined or imprisoned for between three months and a year.

    3.. Article 103, which defines the crime of propaganda enemiga, or "enemy propaganda." It states that anyone who incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist state by means of verbal, written or any other kind of propaganda, or who makes, distributes or possesses such propaganda, can be imprisoned from between one to eight years. Anyone who spreads false news or malicious predictions likely to cause alarm or discontent among the population, or public disorder, can be imprisoned from between one and four years. If the mass media are used, the sentence can be from seven to fifteen years in prison.

    4.. Article 207, which defines the crime of asociación para delinquir, or "associating with others to commit crimes." It states that if three or more persons join together in a group to commit crimes, they can be imprisoned for between one and three years, simply for meeting together. If the only objective of the group is to provoke disorder or interrupt family or public parties, spectacles or other community events or to commit other anti-social acts, the penalty is a fine or a prison sentence of between three months and one year.

    5.. Article 115, which defines the crime of difusión de falsas informaciones contra la paz internacional, or "dissemination of false information against international peace." It states that anyone who spreads
    false news with aim of disturbing international peace or putting in danger the prestige or credit of the Cuban State or its good relations with another state can be imprisoned for between one and four years.

    6.. Article 143, which defines the crime of resistencia, or "resistance." On occasion, the crime is referred to as desobediencia, or "disobedience." It states that anyone who resists an official in the exercise of his duties can be imprisoned for between three months and a year or fined. If the official is trying to apprehend a criminal or someone who has escaped from prison, the penalty is a prison term from two to five years.

    7.. Articles 72-90, which define the crime of peligrosidad, or "dangerousness." These articles come under the heading, "The Dangerous Status and Security Measures," a section of the Penal Code under which someone can be sentenced for up to four years in prison on the grounds that the authorities believe the individual has a "special proclivity" to commit crimes, even though he or she might not have actually committed a crime.
    These articles broadly define "dangerous" people as those who act in a manner that contradicts "socialist morality" or engage in "anti-social behavior." Moreover, Article 75 provides for an "official warning" to people
    the authorities deem to be in danger of becoming "dangerous," i.e., those who are not yet "dangerous" but who are regarded as having criminal tendencies because of their "ties or relations with people who are potentially dangerous to society, other people, and to the social, economic and political order of the socialist State."
    The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concludes that because of "their lack of precision and their subjective nature," the legal definitions of "dangerousness" and such terms as "socialist legality" and "standards of socialist coexistence," constitute a source of juridical insecurity which creates conditions permitting the Cuban authorities to take arbitrary action.22

    In other words, the Penal Code articles which define "dangerousness" constitute a catch-all mechanism which gives the government the legal justification for taking any citizen it wants out of circulation.

    As Human Rights Watch/Americas stated in October 1995:
    Cubans who engage in "anti-social behavior" or violate "socialist morality" may be held in preventive detention under the "dangerousness" provisions of the criminal code for as long as four years, even without
    being convicted of a crime.23 According to Pax Christi Netherlands and Amnesty International, there are clear indications that the crime of "dangerousness" is used as a cover to imprison people for political reasons on the grounds that they are common delinquents.24

    The Penal Code also defines the crime of salida illegal del país, "illegalexit from country." Under Penal Code Articles 216 and 217, those caught trying to leave the country without the permission of the government can be fined or imprisoned for up to three years if they have not used violence and up to eight years if force or intimidation is used.



    22. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States (IACHR-OAS). "Cuba," Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 1996 (Washington, DC: 14 March 1997), p. 710.

    23. Human Rights Watch/Americas. Cuba: Improvement Without Reform (New York: October 1995), p. 9.


    24. Pax Christi Netherlands. Cuba: The Reality Behind the Symbol (Utrecht, The Netherlands: March 1996), p. 15. Amnesty International. Cuba: Hundreds Imprisoned for "Dangerousness" (London: AMR 25/01/94, February 1994).


    Cuba: Systematic Repression of Dissent
    December 1998 (addressing country conditions through November 1997)
    by Douglas Payne

    Cuba's penal code:



    Article 91/Law 88
    The legal instruments most often utilised by the Cuban authorities to silence journalists and writers on the island are Article 91 of the Penal Code used in conjunction with Law 88 (see explanations of both below).
    The measures are wide-ranging and ominously vague, and serve as catch-all legislation designed to cover almost any form of deviance from the official government line.

    The following summary of Article 91 and Law 88 is taken from the Amnesty International website:

    Article 91 of the Penal Code
    Article 91 of the Penal Code, which was the sole charge for 26 of the 75 dissidents and was used in conjunction with Law 88 (see below) for another six, provides for sentences of ten to 20 years or death against anyone convicted of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state"(73). Under this article, "he who, in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state, incurs the penalty of ten to twenty years imprisonment or death"(74).

    Law 88 of 1999, which modifies the Penal Code, changes the provisions regarding sentencing to provide for life imprisonment.

    Law 88
    In February 1999 Cuba's National Assembly passed tough legislation (Law 88), called the Ley de Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba, Law for the Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba. The law calls for seven to 15 years' imprisonment for passing information to the United States that could be used to bolster anti-Cuban measures such as the US economic blockade. This would rise to 20 years if the information is acquired surreptitiously. The legislation also bans the ownership, distribution or reproduction of 'subversive materials' from the US government, and proposes terms of imprisonment of up to five years for collaborating with radio and TV stations and publications deemed to be assisting US policy.

    Every single one of the writers, journalists and librarians sentenced in April 2003 were found guilty on charges relating to Article 91, Law 88 or both.

    The full Spanish text of Law 88 can be viewed at:




    3. Internet and the Cuban regime.

    Internet use is very restricted and under tight surveillance. Access is only possible with government permission and equipment is rationed. E-mail is monitored.

    For the complete report see: The Internet under Surveillance - Cuba

    -  Population : 11,271,000
    -  Internet users : 120,000 (2002)
    -  Average charge for 20 hours of connection : 45 euros
    -  DAI* : 0.38
    -  Situation** : very serious

    The Cuban regime does its best to keep its citizens away from the Internet. The sale of computer equipment is strictly regulated, Internet access is controlled, and e-mail is closely monitored. Looking something up on the Internet can prove dangerous. The indictments of most of the journalists imprisoned in March 2003 contained references to their Internet activity.

    Cuba is the world’s biggest prison for journalists and free expression is banned. The regime carefully processes the news it feeds to its citizens and tolerates no independent press. The government has a contradictory position on the Internet. It trains thousands of students in the new technologies (official sources say some 30,000 are currently receiving training). But it prevents the vast majority of the population from having online access. The authorities have gone as far as to call the Internet "the great disease of 21st century" because it feeds its users with "counter-revolutionary" information. But it is also essential for Cuba’s economic development, as telecommunications minister Ignacio González Planas keeps repeating.

    Cuba is one of the world’s 10 most repressive countries as regards online free expression. The Internet is reserved for the ruling elite. But even the privileged few usually have access only to an Intranet specially created and filtered by the authorities.

    Cubans have found ways to get round the government’s ubiquitous censorship, by buying Internet access on the black market or sharing the few authorised connections. The government nonetheless severely punishes any "illegal" use of the Internet. The island’s courts moreover increasingly use a new charge against dissidents : "counter-revolutionary" Internet use.

    Acquisition of equipment strictly controlled

    The material restrictions are the main obstacle preventing the Internet from reaching the general public. On the one hand, there are only six phone lines for every hundred inhabitants. On the other, prohibitively expensive international phone calls (two dollars a minute to the United States) and the scarcity of international lines (granted on the basis of political criteria and closely monitored) prevent people from using an Internet Service Provider based abroad.

    The necessary equipment, whether or not the most recent models, is only available in specialised state shops which only authorised persons can enter. Furthermore, the sale of "computers, printers, duplicators, photocopiers and mass printing tools" to private individuals by state shops has been banned since January 2002 by a ministry of domestic commerce decree. If a purchase is considered indispensable, authorisation must be requested from the ministry of domestic commerce. The sale of modems to the public had already been banned. Under these conditions, the Internet is inevitably a limited phenomenon in Cuba, although Cuban computer technology companies seem to have mastered all the necessary know-how.

    Internet access subject to authorisation

    The government passed laws as soon as the Internet appeared in Cuba. In June 1996, Decree 209 (entitled "Access to the World Computer Network from Cuba") said the Internet could not be used "in violation of the moral principles of Cuban society and its laws" and that Internet messages must not "endanger national security."

    Cubans who want to have their own Internet access or use public access points must have official permission. To obtain it, they must give a "valid reason" and sign a contract listing restrictions. As with obtaining a telephone line, they must get also approval from ETEC SA, the country’s only telecom company, and from a local commission linked to the neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, which evaluates the merits of applicants.

    Decree 209 says access is granted "with priority given to bodies and institutions that can contribute to the life and development of the country." Apart from embassies and foreign companies, this means political figures, top officials, intellectuals, academics, researchers and journalists working for the government, managers of firms that export cultural products, computer firms and senior Catholic church officials.

    A ministry of computer technology and communications was set up on 13 January 2000 to "regulate, manage, supervise and monitor" Cuban policy on communications technology, computers, telecommunications, computer networks, broadcasting, radio frequencies, postal services and the electronics industry.

    E-mail surveillance

    Cubans have been able to use a special national e-mail service at ETEC SA access points since September 2001, without connecting to the Internet. Three hours of access to this service - valid for only one person - costs 3.5 euros (a third of the average Cuban monthly wage of about 10 euros). The user must prove identity, fill in a long form and give an address. The ISP is able to monitor all messages before they are sent or received. According to official figures, Cuba currently has 480,000 e-mail accounts.

    Internet centres that only offer access to an Intranet

    Unless they have official authorisation, Cubans cannot access the Internet from a public access point. The Internet is only available to tourists - at a prohibitive charge of about 6 euros an hours - in hotels and a few cybercafés.

    The government has set up Internet centres - usually in post offices - where Cubans can access their e-mail and an Intranet called Tu Isla (Your Island), consisting of websites chosen by the authorities, including the sites of the state radio and TV stations that broadcast their programmes online. To use these public access points, they have to sign a register and show ID.

    Black-market Internet

    No matter how limited the spread of new technology and Internet access, it has given rise to a small but well-organised black market. Some registered users rent out their log-on names and passwords for about 60 euros a month (equivalent to about six months’ average salary), while others bring customers to their private point of access and charge for time online. Some staff at the ETEC SA centres let friends and family go online, or let others go online for a fee. Some Internet users have reportedly managed to smuggle receiver dishes and modems into the country to connect to US-based satellite ISPs such as Starband and DirecPC, with the cost paid by relatives in the United States (500 dollars to sign up and 100 dollars a month subscription).

    A black-market in e-mail addresses has emerged for the few Cubans who have a computer. A Monitoring and Supervision Agency (ACS) was created in January 2001 as an offshoot of the ministry of computer technology and communications to track down people who "improperly" used the Internet. Its head, Carlos Martínez Albuerne, said in an article in the daily Granma on 23 April 2003 that in 2002, sanctions had been taken against 31 people for this reason or for "using e-mail addresses that did not belong to them." The article did not say what the punishment was.

    Hunting down "unauthorised" users

    The government issued a decree in January 2004 imposing a complete ban on the use of ordinary phone lines to connect to the Internet, in order to combat pirate connections. The decree said ETEC SA would "use all necessary technical means to detect and prevent Internet access" by unauthorised persons. This decree has not yet taken effect.



    -  Websites with articles by independent journalists


    -  Government portal for "Internet and Institutions"


    -  Government press portal

    * The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country’s inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

    ** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.



    Also see: Access Denied: Internet Connectivity Control in Cuba



    However, Article 91 and Law 88 are not the only two repressive measures regarding freedom of expression in Cuba. A new law passed in January 2004 severely restricts internet access to Cuban citizens. Under the legislation, only officially recognised businesses and government offices are allowed internet access.

    Brought in by the government under the guise of thwarting rogue internet access providers, the law's intent is clearly to prevent further the flow of information to and from ordinary Cuban people. It thus violates their freedom of expression and hits particularly hard those non-government journalists filing reports via e-mail.

    It is believed that before the law came into place, up to 40,000 Cubans enjoyed unofficial internet access. Pre-existing laws had made the unofficial nature of their internet connections a necessity since the vast majority of Cubans did not qualify to have a legal internet connection.

    The Cuban government was also reported in January 2004 to have called on Etecsa, the sole legal internet service provider, "to deploy all technical means to detect and block Internet access" to unauthorized users.



    4. Current News and Reports




    Leader: President Fidel Castro, who has run a one-party state since seizing
    power in a 1959 revolution

    How censorship works: The Cuban constitution grants the Communist Party the right to control the press; it recognizes "freedom of speech and the press
    in accordance with the goals of the socialist society." The government owns
    and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. News is
    carried on four television channels, two news agencies, dozens of radio
    stations, at least four news Web sites, and three main newspapers
    representing the views of the Communist Party and other mass organizations
    controlled by the government. The media operate under the supervision of the
    Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which develops
    and coordinates propaganda strategies. Cuba remains one of the world's
    leading jailers of journalists, second only to China, with 24 independent
    reporters behind bars. Those who try to work as independent reporters are
    harassed, detained, threatened with prosecution or jail, or barred from
    traveling. A small number of foreign correspondents report from Havana but
    Cubans do not see their reports. Officials grant visas to foreign
    journalists selectively, often excluding those from outlets deemed

    Lowlight: The government organizes demonstrations known as "repudiation
    acts" outside the homes of independent journalists. Government supporters
    congregate around the homes, intimidate those inside and prevent them from
    leaving or receiving visitors.


    Interim leader: Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz
    Indicators: Twenty-nine journalists imprisoned in massive 2003
    crackdown. Four foreign journalists expelled after covering 2005 opposition
    meeting. Another 10 barred entry when Fidel Castro becomes ill in 2006.
    Key fact: Cases of government harassment increase in the past year.


    From recent news sources:

    1. Freedom of Speech

    2. Apartheid in Cuba

    3. Bibliotecas Independientes

    4. Crime under Law 88

    5. Oscar Espinosa Chepe

    6. Damas de Blanco

    7. Dissidents

    8. Freedom of Religion

    9. Human Rights

    10. Internet

    11. Independent Journalists

    12. Independent Libraries

    13. Raul Rivero

    14. RSF


    From the Cuba Verdad e-group archive:

    1. Dissident

    2. Internet

    3. Freedom of Speech in Cuba

    4. Independent journalist


    Reporters Without Frontiers on Cuba:

    Recent News on RSF and Cuba

    1. 2002 Report

    2. 2003 Report

    3. 2004 Report

    4. 2005 Report

    5. 2006 Report

    6. 2007 Report

    7. "Black Spring", three years after

    8. Archive search


    Committee to Protect Journalists on Cuba:

    Recent News on the CPJ and Cuba

    1. Crackdown on independent reporters in Cuba (2003)

    2. Recent CPJ News

    3. Archive search


    Also see:

    1. Cuba shamed on press freedom, BBC, May 2 2007

    2. Backsliders,CPJ, May 2 2007.


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