Mayelín Rodríguez Prado: Cuba sentences 22-year-old mother to 15 years in prison for publishing videos of protests | International | EL PAÍS English

At the age of 22, Mayelín Rodríguez Prado received the heaviest of the sentences the Cuban government handed down to a group of 13 people who demonstrated in August 2022 in the municipality of Nuevitas, in central Cuba. Prado, who is the mother of a little girl, will serve 15 years in prison for publishing the protests through the social network Facebook.

Prado recorded the moment in which Cuban police beat three girls during the demonstration, as well as other repressive actions against protestors. The young woman, whose daughter at the time was less than a year old, was detained at her home after the protest and held in solitary confinement at a State Security facility.

The judicial sentence issued by the Municipal Court of Camagüey, to which the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) had access, states that the court agreed to punish Prado as “author of an intentional and consummated crime of enemy propaganda of a continuous nature” and “author of an intentional and consummated crime of sedition.” The court also announced sentences of between four and 14 years for 12 other participants in the demonstration for the same crimes. According to the Cuban Penal Code, sedition is a “crime against the internal security of the State,” and anyone who “tumultuously and by means of express or tacit agreement, using violence, disturbs the socialist order” can be prosecuted on that charge.

“It was Mayelín who gave visibility to the protests and to the repression of the authorities, that is why this sentence [has been imposed], as a way to punish her,” says Cuban lawyer Raudiel Peña Barrios, a member of the legal advisory group Cubalex. Barrios insists that the objective of these sentences is to criminalize peaceful protest and freedom of expression. “The message is clear. Anyone who protests, no matter how peacefully, anywhere in Cuba will be punished. The crime of sedition carried significant political context, because sedition has to be committed by someone who wants to change the political regime. The message is to convey that anyone who does not participate in a demonstration, but who records them, takes photos or videos, will also be sanctioned.”

Tired of the lack of electricity and other basic necessities, hundreds of residents of Nuevitas took to the streets of the Pastelillo neighborhood two years ago with pots and pans, cell phone flashlights and horns shouting “Freedom.” The demonstration took place just a year after the massive protests of July 11, 2021, which the Havana government broke up with repression and convictions that left more than 1,000 people behind bars, some serving sentences of up to 30 years.

The harsh sentencing this week of up to 15 years in prison for Cubans who peacefully assembled in Nuevitas in 2022 is outrageous. The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfill their basic rights and needs is unconscionable.

Cuban activist Marcel Valdés reported on social media that Fray Claro Valladares, 22, another of the 13 people arrested for the Nuevitas protest, “tried to hang himself” in the Cerámica prison in Camagüey province after learning of his 10-year sentence.

These sentences are “designed to be exemplary” amid the discontent caused by the socioeconomic situation in Cuba, according to Yaxys Cires, director of strategies of the OCDH. “These sentences are part of a highly repressive context in which other events have also occurred: the detention of journalist José Luis Tan on April 26; the arbitrary detention for several hours of intellectual Alina Bárbara López Hernández, who was also beaten; and the recent reminder on a Cuban television program that there are crimes, such as sedition, which could carry the death penalty. These are just some examples.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols also criticized the convictions. ” The harsh sentencing this week of up to 15 years in prison for Cubans who peacefully assembled in Nuevitas in 2022 is outrageous,” he said on X. “The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfill their basic rights and needs is unconscionable.”

There are other cases of people the Cuban government has sentenced for expressing themselves publicly on social networks. Among the July 2021 protesters, Yoan de la Cruz, who broadcast the first demonstration from San Antonio de los Baños live via Facebook, was imprisoned for 10 months and sentenced to five years of correctional labor without internment.

With the rise of the internet in recent years on the island, giving more and more Cubans access to social networks, and the increase in demonstrations of popular discontent, the government has implemented tools that restrict freedom of expression online and punish by law any publication considered a threat. Decree Law 370, approved in 2019, criminalizes the disclosure on social networks of “information contrary to the public interest, morals, good customs and the integrity of persons.” Likewise, Decree Law 35 of 2021 legislates the restriction of the use of information “through telecommunication/ICT infrastructures, platforms or services, of content that threatens the constitutional, social, and economic precepts of the State.”

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