The International Press Institute (IPI) today criticized the exclusion of independent journalism from allowable self-employment and private enterprise activities by the Cuban government.
On February 9, the Cuban government published a list of prohibited self-employment activities. The list excludes the “production and distribution of information” and “activities of news agencies”. The document is a reform to the Decree Law No. 141, officially promulgated in 1993, that aimed to control self-employment activities and establish a regulatory framework.
According to the list, the 124 activities that were excluded include news agencies, radio transmissions, audiovisual and cinematographic production, newspaper publishing, and other telecommunication channels and products.
The move marks the Cuban government’s latest effort to keep a lid on independent journalism, which has faced increasing repression since the start of the pandemic.
In response to the publication, several journalists expressed discontent on social media platforms and reiterated their commitment to ensuring the free flow of independent news to the citizens of Cuba.
In a Facebook post journalist Héctor Luis Valdés posted a picture with his mouth covered and his hands tied, and wrote: “I do this out of the outrage I feel over the fact that the Cuban regime criminalizes the exercise of journalism independently. It always had, but now it makes it official”.
In support, journalist and activist Iliana Hernández commented on Valdés’s post, “I continue to use my right to express what I feel, I was born free, I am not a slave”.
A long struggle
While the systematic control of information by the Cuban regime has been present for over six decades, in recent years, the strategies that stifle the free flow of information have increased.
In April 2018, a decree that restricted the artistic creation and freedom of expression was implemented. Under this regulation artists and intellectuals are required to obtain state approval before showcasing their work and their audiovisual content is subject to regulation. The consequences for violating the law include the confiscation of their equipment and the cancellation of their artistic licenses.
A year later, another decree established fines for disseminating information “contrary to the social interest, the morals, good manners and the integrity of people” through public transmission networks. As a result of this new regulation, at least 20 independent journalists have been threatened, harassed, fined or interrogated.
In 2020, a report published by the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press said that 438 cases of attacks against the independent press and freedom of expression were registered during that year. More than half of the violations were arbitrary detentions, which is the most commonly used method by the Cuban regime to suppress independent journalism.
The start of 2021 has seen a similar trend in the state’s attempt to stifle press freedom. In the first month of the year, 38 acts against freedom of the press were registered according to the watchdog organization Voces del Sur Unidas; of which, 55 percent are arbitrary detentions without a judicial order.
A notable case in January was that of an independent journalist Héctor Luis Valdés, who was evicted on two occasions in less than 20 days due to pressure exerted by the authorities against the owners of the properties he rented. Later, on January 27, he was physically attacked and held under house arrest for four days. Valdés is known for criticizing the regime and denouncing regulations against freedom of expression.
In another case, several independent journalists were physically attacked and violently arrested while covering a peaceful protest of artists in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana.
Interrogations and threats are also common tactics used by the government to suppress independent journalism. Journalist Enrique Díaz Rodríguez was summoned, questioned and threatened by the authorities on January 15. Likewise, journalist Alejandro Hernández Cepero was arbitrarily detained and threatened with criminal prosecution for demonstrating against the Cuban political regime.
Since the list of approved self-employment list was published, organizations like the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press have condemned the regulations. However, activists like Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist and ex-political prisoner, remain positive due to the resistance expressed by media professionals and the international pressure.
It is expected that more organizations and institutions safeguarding human rights and freedom of expression will join the protests by thousands of independent media professionals whose rights to freedom of expression and press are now seriously compromised.