The objective, according to its own authors? “To protect the socialist political and state system against all actions and activities committed against the constitutional order and aimed at creating a climate of social instability and inability to govern”.
Barely published on the site of the general prosecutor’s office in March, the project aroused rejection among the opposition to the communist government.
“The new Penal Code is a new twist of the regime to intensify repression against citizens,” said René Gomez Manzano, president of Corriente Agramontista, the oldest organization of Cuban dissident lawyers.
This text is part of a series of laws, such as those on food sovereignty, the Family Code and personal data, intended to complement the new Constitution approved in 2019.
During an extraordinary parliamentary session scheduled for Saturday, several of these projects will be presented to deputies, with the penal code to be approved the same day.
“It is striking to note that, unlike the Family Code, this new legislative corpus is drawn up in secret”, notes Mr. Gomez, lawyer, ex-political prisoner and dissident activist of 77 years.
The Family Code, which includes the legalization of same-sex marriage and surrogacy, is the subject of a large official communication campaign and has been debated in popular consultation, before soon being submitted to a referendum.
Discretion seems rather appropriate with regard to the Penal Code, which sanctions 37 new offenses related to “telecommunications, information and communication technologies”: a response to the arrival of the mobile Internet at the end of 2018, which upset the Cuban civil society.
The legislation comes after the historic demonstrations of July 11 and 12, 2021, unprecedented in sixty years of revolution, which left one dead and dozens injured. More than 1,300 people were arrested, many of whom later received heavy sentences, up to 30 years in prison.
“It’s not the Penal Code that Cuba needs,” said jurist Harold Bertot, a professor at the University of Havana now in Madrid for research. And “chronologically, its discussion and then its entry into force coincide with a moment of political and social tension in Cuba”.
This Code “bets on greater criminalization of offenses, the strengthening of penalties”, he regrets. “It is designed to have a great impact on Cuban political activism.”
– “Mercenaries” –
To the already existing offense of “public disorder”, is now added another penalizing individual or group demonstrations. It also punishes foreign financing of activities “against the security of the state”.
Independent or opposition media, activists and dissident groups would thus be considered “mercenaries” if they received money from American agencies and NGOs, risking sentences of four to ten years in prison.
“In a country where private media is illegal and journalists are unable to obtain local funding, banning foreign funding is a death sentence for the independent journalist,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists ( CPJ).
Among the offenses against public order there will now be “the dissemination of false news or malicious predictions in order to cause panic, discontent or misinformation”, indicate the authors of the Code.
For the jurist Bertot, the text also provides for “a significant number of offenses punishable by the death penalty, even if its exceptional nature is recognized, and this goes in the opposite direction to trends on the American continent itself, with a call for abolition”.
In the first decades of the revolution, the death penalty, by shooting, was used frequently. Since 2000, however, there has been a de facto moratorium, only broken in April 2003 with the execution of three Cubans who had taken a 50-passenger boat hostage in the bay of Havana, in order to emigrate.