The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 3,600 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through September 2013, compared to approximately 2,100 in 2010.
The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are beaten and threatened when detained, even if they do not try to resist.
Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees receive official warnings, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.
Victims of such arrests may be held incommunicado for several hours to several days. Some are held at police stations, while others are driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned.
On August 25, 2013, more than 30 women from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—were detained after attending Sunday mass at a church in Santiago, beaten, forced onto a bus, and left at various isolated locations on the city’s outskirts. The same day, eight members of the group in Havana and seven more in Holguín were arbitrarily detained as they marched peacefully to attend mass.From Freedom House:
The Cuban news media are owned and controlled by the state. The independent press is considered illegal and their publications “enemy propaganda.” Government agents routinely infiltrate the ranks of independent journalists and report on their activities, often accusing them of being mercenaries working at the behest of foreign powers. Independent journalists, particularly those associated with the island’s dozen small independent news agencies or human rights groups, are subject to harassment. Nevertheless, some state media have begun to cover previously taboo topics, such as corruption in the health and education sectors. The national newspaper Granma has begun to publish letters to the editor complaining about economic issues, and state television, while generally a mouthpiece of the PCC, has recently inaugurated a new program, Cuba Dice (Cuba Says), that features “man-on-the-street” interviews. A number of publications associated with the Roman Catholic Church have emerged as key players in debates over the country’s future, including Espacio Laical, Palabra Nueva, and Convivencia. Low-circulation academic journals such as Temas are similarly able to adopt a relatively open and critical posture, given their limited mass appeal.
Access to the internet remains tightly controlled and prohibitively expensive. The estimated effective internet penetration rate is 5 percent, one of the lowest in the world, while nearly 30 percent of the population has occasional access to e-mail and a circumscribed, domestic “intranet.” In June 2013, the government announced the opening of 118 “Nauta” internet cafés across the island, increasing public access. However, one hour of computer time at these cafés costs the equivalent of a week’s average salary, and users are required to show identification and sign a pledge not to engage in “subversive” activities online. Household access to the internet is not currently available to the public, with only a select few permitted to legally connect at home. There are plans to begin enabling access via smartphones, but prices are expected to be prohibitive for the vast majority of the population.