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New Cuban decree tightened controls on social media and aroused outrage


Havana, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Cuba this week introduced stricter controls on social media use, including a ban on publications that could “harm the country’s reputation”, angering many citizens and international human rights defenders.

Decree 35, published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, comes a month after the most widespread anti-government protests in the communist-led country in decades, based in part on information on social media.

Legislation prohibits the distribution of false news or messages and content that are considered offensive or that “encourage mobilization or other actions that disturb public order”. It also provides a channel for Cubans to inform about potential violations.

Those who have tried to “undermine the constitutional order” are considered cyber terrorists. It does not say what the penalties are for violations.

“Our Decree 35 is against misinformation and cyber lies,” said President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who attributed the July 11 protests to an online campaign by US-backed counterrevolutionaries.

Cuban analysts compared the measure to the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s “1984” and said they feared the vague definitions of what constitutes a violation would allow arbitrary implementation.

Since the introduction of mobile internet a little over two years ago, platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have enabled Cubans to share their complaints and even mobilize in a country where public spaces are strictly controlled.

“Cuba is formalizing digital oppression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty Americas.

Nicaragua passed a similar “cybercrime” law last year and used it to silence the opposition, she said.

Cuba’s new decree specifically instructs the state telecommunications monopoly to suspend services to users who have committed violations, in coordination with the relevant authorities.

People carry during a rally in Havana, Cuba, 17, 2021. REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini

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Cuban officials have long argued that dialogue is allowed, but only “within the revolution” to present a unified front against the United States, which has long been openly trying to force political change in the country.

Last month the US government said it was working with the private sector and Congress to find ways to make the Internet more accessible to the people of Cuba.

Some Cuban Americans have used social media to encourage Cubans on the island to rise up against the government, and some have even pushed for acts of sabotage.

But many young Cubans say this shouldn’t be an excuse to speak up and have posted on social media criticism of the new measure enacted a month after protests accompanied by “cries of freedom”.

“Now we can’t even talk,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity who participated in a video denouncing the dire working conditions in Cuba’s COVID-19 crisis.

The US State Department said Tuesday that Cuba should “not punish those who tell the truth,” while British Ambassador to Havana Antony Stokes wrote on Twitter that recent crackdowns on protesters and the censorship embodied by Decree 35 ” silence legitimate voices ”. “

Canada-based Cuban legal analyst Eloy Viera said Decree 35 outlined regulations rather than updating the criminal code so it wouldn’t result in jail time for those found in violations.

However, it is a stricter and explicit policy of regulating online opinion than a previous 2019 decree that bans the “dissemination of information that is contrary to the common good, morality, decency and integrity,” he said.

Government critics had to expect fines after this decree, said Viera. But in the end it was not effective, and probably neither was Decree 35, he said.

“You won’t be able to apply it to all the dissatisfaction of Cubans who have found a space on social media that doesn’t exist in the country’s public places,” said Viera.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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