The Communist government of Cuba continues to imprison, persecute, and intimidate journalists and their families.Indeed, the Committee to Protect Journalists considers Cuba one of the most hostile environments for the press in the world, ranking the island nation among the 10 Most Censored Countries.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba has made independent reporting even more difficult and dangerous as the Cuban government spreads disinformation about its handling of the crisis.Independent Cuban journalists are increasingly being fined under Decree 370, which penalizes Cubans who express their opinions on the internet.Approved in May 2019, the decree bans the dissemination in Cuba of “information contrary to the social interest, morals, good manners, and integrity of people” on social media networks and other digital platforms.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in Cuba, at least seven activists and journalists have been fined under Decree 370, according to Hugo Landa, director of the site CubaNet. Fellow CubaNet journalist Camila Acosta was fined in late March for publishing information about the new coronavirus on her Facebook profile. In addition to the fine of 3,000 pesos, or $120, Acosta’s cell phone was confiscated.She told Radio Martí in an interview that she fears being jailed.
The situation of imprisoned Cuban journalists has also become more dangerous due to the spread of COVID-19 among the prison population.The case of lawyer and journalist Roberto Quiñones is of particular concern.He was jailed for refusing to pay a fine for committing “resistance” and “disobedience” – charges stemming from his April 22, 2019, arrest while reporting on a trial.He has served more than half of his year-long sentence, during which time he suffered escalating health problems.
Quiñones and other imprisoned journalists in Cuba face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, as they cannot isolate, social distance, or follow other basic health guidelines, said Natalie Southwick, Central and South America Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
USAID condemns the Cuban regime’s crackdown on the media in the “strongest possible terms,” said Acting Administrator John Barsa. The United States pays tribute to the Cuban journalists who work, at great personal risk, to bring candid news and accurate information to the Cuban people – particularly during this pandemic.There has never been a more important time to raise awareness about the need to protect press freedoms.