Cuban journalist Abraham Jimenez Enoa denounced his arbitrary arrest and being stripped, handcuffed and transferred to the State Security Unit known as Villa Marista, on October 1st. Once there, he was interrogated and threatened.
Jimenez collaboration with the US newspaper The Washington Post is the alleged reason for his arrest. The authorities told him it could be a crime of “usurpation of functions” because the newspaper isn’t accredited in Cuba.
Cuban legislation stipulates to justify a person’s arrest, an incident must be reported beforehand linking the detainee to it.
It also recognizes an arrest if made in flagrante at a crime scene. In these cases, a report must be filed immediately after the arrest.
There is no record of Abraham Jimenez reported before or after his arrest. No crime relating to “usurpation” is applicable against the former director of the independent digital publication El Estornudo.
What is usurpation?
The Penal Code recognizes four crimes linked to usurpation. Usurpation of a Political or Military Power (Article 102). This stipulates sanctions for people who illegally take on the command of troops and civil groups or usurp official functions.
The crime of Usurpation (Article 333) sanctions those who illegally occupy or take over a property (building, house or deserted dilapidated tenement) that doesn’t belong to them.
Article 102 and 333 don’t condemn a journalist’s collaboration with foreign media. Neither does article 148 (Usurpation of Official Functions). This one condemns those who impersonate public servants or members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces or Ministry of the Interior.
Usurpation of Legal Capacity (Art. 149) is a crime the Cuban government uses to sanction the work of independent journalists who lack a degree.
International standards of freedom of expression recognize that no degree is needed to be a journalist. However, the Cuban government uses this argument to repress anti-establishment civil journalism.
Nevertheless, Abraham Jimenez has a degree. He graduated in Journalism from Havana University’s Communications Department, in 2012. His collaboration with The Washington Post doesn’t fall under any of the usurpation-related crimes stipulated in the Penal Code.
The gag law was never repealed
Using collaboration with foreign press unaccredited in Cuba to justify repression reminds us that Law 88 is still in force. This is the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy law, known as the “gag law”. Even more so if this media outlet is linked to the United States
In Article 7.1, this law indicates that: “Any person who with the intent of succeeding in the objectives of the “Helms-Burton” Law, the blockade or the economic war against our people, aimed at breaking the internal order, destabilizing the country and liquidating Cuba’s socialist state and independence, collaborates by any means with foreign radio and television stations, newspapers, magazines or other media outlets commits a crime punishable by a prison sentence of two to five years, or a fine of three thousand quotas, or both.”
“Criminal responsibility in the cases cited in the above paragraph will apply to those who use said media. It does not apply to foreign reporters legally accredited in this county…”
“The prison sentence is three to eight years, or a fine of three to five thousand quotas, or both if the deed described in paragraph 1 is committed in search of profit or by means of a handout, remuneration, reward or promise of an advantage or benefit.”
Beyond the arrest no guarantees or rights as prisoners
Therefore, rather than charge Jimenez with usurpation, they could turn to this other repressive legislation to justify his arrest. However, if the Cuban authorities wanted to repeat another Black Spring, like they unleashed in 2003, and which led to the imprisonment of 75 independent journalists and political opponents (the only time Law 88 was applied) to consider Abraham and other Cuban journalists who collaborate with US press criminals, this wouldn’t justify the unlawful treatment of them once in custody, not that the law provides them with many guarantees anyway.
Being considered a criminal doesn’t include a detainee being arrested or stripped naked for no reason. Things like this turn the “criminal” into a victim and the captors into “thugs”.
Just two weeks ago, during a UN Working Group meeting about Arbitrary Arrests, the Netherlands highlighted its concern regarding the arbitrary arrest of independent journalists, artists and activists in Cuba.
“We are concerned about the frequent reports of harassment, intimidation, restrictions to leave their homes and travel bans that independent journalists, artists and activists are subject to,” said The Netherlands’ representative his speech. He urged the Cuban government to resolve these problems and to respect every citizen’s human rights.