IAPA Condemns New Cuban Law Legalizing Official Censorship

"The regime is legalizing censorship with a new law that allows it, at its leisure, to put an end to criticism of independent journalism and the opinions of its citizens on the Internet."

Miami (June 7, 2023) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) condemns Cuba's dictatorial regime for its ploy to "legalize censorship" by approving a law that will allow it to strengthen its coercion against press freedom, independent media, and journalists and further restrict citizens' freedom of expression.

IAPA President Michael Greenspon said: "It is clear that the regime is increasing new forms of censorship against media and journalists through administrative and legal restrictions to defuse social discontent." Greenspon, Global Head of Licensing & Print Innovation for The New York Times, added: "In its more than six decades of existence, the Cuban dictatorship has specialized in curtailing freedoms and violating human rights."

Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power approved on May 26 the Law on Social Communication, which gives broad powers to the government to control or close independent media and extol the propaganda of the official press, the only ones authorized to operate in the country according to the Constitution: "The fundamental means of social communication, in any of its manifestations and supports, are socialist property of all the people or the political, social and mass organizations; and cannot be the object of any other type of property," says the norm.

Greenspon recalled that the Cuban government unleashed relentless moments against freedom of the press in recent years when independent journalism could be more critical and freer. He recalled times when the regime closed all the privately-owned media, the Black Spring of 2003 when 75 people were imprisoned as dissidents, including more than two dozen journalists and the IAPA Vice President for Press Freedom in Cuba, Raúl Rivero. He also recalled that after the social protests of July 2021, the "11J", numerous citizens and journalists were arrested, including Henry Constantín, current IAPA Vice President for Press Freedom, and that the regime blocked internet services, mobile telephony, and social media.

"Now, after expelling several journalists from the country and restricting the media and journalists, the regime is legalizing censorship with a new law that allows it, at its leisure, to put an end to criticism of independent journalism and the opinions of its citizens on the Internet," Greenspon said.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, added: "It is clear that this law legitimizes the state to continue censoring without guilt, persecuting and gagging. The viciousness of the regime is not surprising if one considers its iron system of censorship, for which it uses the Penal Code, Law 88, and other decrees".

The Penal Code punishes the author of criticism of state officials with imprisonment and guarantees impunity to the authorities. Article 143 establishes prison sentences of up to 10 years for receiving, using, and possessing foreign funds.

Law 88, on the protection of national independence and the economy, known as the "gag law," criminalizes and condemns with imprisonment and confiscation of property anyone who "supplies, directly or through a third party, to the Government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependencies, representatives or officials, information to facilitate the objectives of the Helms-Burton Law," enacted in 1996 to discourage foreign investment and to internationalize and strengthen the economic blockade against Cuba. That law was used against 29 journalists sentenced 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years.

Decree 370, which regulates Internet use, applies severe fines and confiscates equipment for, among other crimes, sharing publications on social media considered contrary to the government.

Jornet, the editor of the Argentine daily La Voz del Interior, added: "The Cuban regime continually violates Inter-American standards favorable to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, such as the elimination of compulsory membership of journalists, the decriminalization of defamation offenses, the elimination of the offense of contempt to allow open criticism of the authorities, and the creation of laws on access to public information and transparency, to facilitate government oversight by journalists and the general public."

International standards for the protection of human rights provide that any restrictions on freedom of expression must be provided for by law, pursue a legitimate aim, be appropriate to achieve that legitimate aim, and be necessary and proportionate or reasonable. "But in addition," warned Jornet, "they establish that the national laws that provide for them must be under international norms and conventions so as not to jeopardize the right that must be guaranteed."

Throughout more than six decades of military dictatorship in Cuba, the IAPA has constantly denounced the regime's atrocities concerning violations of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The Chapultepec Index, an IAPA barometer that since 2019 measures institutional actions affecting press freedom and freedom of expression in 22 countries of the Americas, has kept Cuba at the bottom of the ranking. Among the significant stumbling blocks to press freedom, the Index emphasizes the following facts: police repression, spying, and blocking of the Internet with the support of the state-owned Telecommunications Company (Etecsa), defamatory propaganda against journalists and independent media through state media and social networks, lack of access to sources of public information, criminalization of journalistic activity through illegal arrests and police summons, and strict control of freedom of association through deportations and prohibitions so that they cannot move or make coverage freely around the country.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.