Cuba detains and interrogates dozens of journalists over coverage of protests

Havana, Jul 20 (VOA) – Cuban journalists who covered the most serious protests against the Havana government in decades have been arrested, subjected to police surveillance and intimidated by the authorities, denounces the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP),

Normando Hernández González, director of ICLEP, said in an interview with the Voice of America that at least 47 journalists have been detained, and classified the arrests as a symptom of how the Cuban government is trying to “criminalize” the journalistic profession.

The protests resulted in dozens of arrests, a confirmed death and three days of interruption of Cuba’s unstable internet service, in a desperate attempt by the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel to prevent further demonstrations and prevent the dissemination of images of what is happening inside. of the island.

Authorities said the protests were the result of US-funded “counterrevolutionaries” exploiting the economic hardships caused by the sanctions.

Journalists interviewed by the VOA claim that the police confiscated computers and phones, cut off Internet access, or put them under house arrest.

Intimidation

One of those journalists is Camila Acosta, who spent five days in police custody after being arrested in Havana on July 12 for having covered the demonstrations in the Cuban capital. The journalist was released on Friday and placed under house arrest.

Police told the 28-year-old that for the next six months, while they investigate her case, she will only be able to leave her home for essential travel, such as shopping or health reasons.

“They tried to get me to sign a document saying that I was guilty of public disorder, but I refused. I am not guilty of anything. I was just doing my job as a journalist, reporting on demonstrations, “Acosta explained to the Voice of America by phone from his home in Havana.

“I took advantage of my time inside the police cells to interview people, about an hour a day. I guess I was meant to do this job. I saw many people inside who were arrested for the protests, some had been beaten, even children.

Acosta, who works for the Spanish newspaper ABC and CubaNet, a pro-opposition newsletter, claimed that the police used psychological tactics against her. «They tried to intimidate me and put pressure on me psychologically. They tried to tell me that I am not a real journalist. I said I studied journalism at the University of Havana, “he said.

I just laughed at them; this is what I do, I will not stop reporting »

Camila Acosta, journalist

“They tried to tell me that I was not an important person and that my family did not care about me.” Acosta said the police even tried to persuade her to quit journalism. “When they said that I should quit journalism, I just laughed at them; this is what I do, I will not stop reporting, “he said.

“I was not afraid, but I was worried about my family. She was also concerned about many people who have been arrested and simply disappeared. It is a worrying situation.

The journalist said that the police took her laptop, mobile phone, tablet and hard drive, but the authorities did not cut off internet access at her home.

House arrest

Also under house arrest is Alberto Corzo, director of ICLEP, 51 years old. Police raided his home on July 15 and detained Corzo for 24 hours.

«My arrest was quite traumatic. My 10-year-old son Cesar has been harassed by people close to the regime in my town. Then, when the police arrived, he had a nervous breakdown, “Corzo explained to the VOA from his home in Matanzas.

When the protests began, Corzo said, he telephoned his contacts to find out what was happening in Havana and other cities.

“I was just doing my job as a journalist, but they accused me of inciting protests”

Alberto Corzo, director of ICLEP

“I was just doing my job as a journalist, but they accused me of inciting the protests. My phone is tapped so they know who I was talking to, ”he said.

Corzo said he was interrogated twice during the 24 hours he was in police custody.

“They try to intimidate anyone who is involved in independent journalism. Some people write not only about politics but about social issues, but they are also the target of attacks, “explains Corzo. “Despite what has happened – and I am quite upset about it – I will never leave the profession of journalist.”

Police observation

Other independent journalists, such as Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego of the local news website Amanecer Habanero, have been under police observation since the protests began.

«This last week has been very intense. We are seeing a lot of political and social tension in the capital. I know many journalists who are under police surveillance, “he told the VOA through social networks after repeated attempts to contact him by phone failed.

The journalist sent photos showing a police guard posted outside his home.

Moreno said that despite pressure from the Cuban government, most reporters were determined to preserve the “tools of their trade” such as computers and telephones.

“Until now they have not been able to take these away from us because we have a policy to preserve them, using strategies to prevent this from happening,” he said. “But the internet has been our weak point and communication is very difficult. Navigating through social networks is practically impossible.

Social media oriented

Those who use social media to share news and comments are among the targets.

Dina Stars, a 25-year-old whose YouTube page includes songs about freedom from what she calls state oppression and comments on the protests, was arrested live on television on July 13 while being interviewed by Spanish television channel Cuatro. .

They did not torture me. I’m on the side of the truth, ”he told his 40,000 subscribers after his release the next day. “I was arrested for promoting the protests.”

US funding

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez pointed out at a press conference that media outlets working for the US government, which funds several opposition media websites, were fueling the protests, Reuters reported.

The CubaNet website does not hide funding from the United States government. It received $ 300,000 from USAID in 2020 and has 30 correspondents in Cuba who, according to the website, offer independent reports.

The site’s director, Hugo Landa, claims that since the protests, at least four of them have been detained, including Acosta. “Many of our journalists could not leave their homes because the State Security Police put agents at their doors and prohibited them from leaving,” he said.

Moreno, from Amanecer Habanero, says that the situation remains tense and adds: “We are waiting for another uprising.”

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