Arbitrary detention, fake charges for freedom of speech in Cuba

The Czech NGO People in Need¬– which has previously brought public attention to Juliet Michelena’s case through its website monitoring human rights abuses, www.eyeoncuba.org– was pleased to learn last week about the independent journalist’s release. However, she was a victim of censorship and was arbitrarily jailed since April 7th after being accused of an attempted assault. Last month the prosecutor asked for a two year sentence. Finally all charges against her were dropped.

Although Juliet’s case has had a happy ending, the gravity of such a case remains: In Cuba, a place where the authorities subjectively decide on one’s fate, any independent journalist can be arbitrary arrested, charged and sentenced. That is why People in Need asks the Cuban authorities to respect basic human rights: the freedom of speech and expression, the right to receive a fair trial.

Her case is a pure example of how fake evidence can be invented and how a person can be unlawfully imprisoned without a trial for several months. Furthermore, once the trial started she had to confront a new obstacle: the defending lawyers were not actually defending her, but omitting evidence, refusing witnesses and delaying procedures. After being misrepresented by four of them, she finally decided to give up having a lawyer at all.

Regarding the charges against her, the Prosecution changed its mind: in the beginning she was accused of threats against a neighbor, but the Court suspended the trial for lack of evidence. Then she was accused of attempted murder. Why this switch? Because more serious charged meant she could be kept in prison.
Paradoxically, Niurka Suarez Leon, the woman who aggressed and prevented Juliet Michelena from participating in a workshop organized this past April by The Cuban Network of Community Communicators in Havana, became the plaintiff.

Juliet’s lawyers repeatedly refused evidence in her defense: witnesses that stated she never went to the plaintiff’s neighborhood, testimony that Michelena had been visited in prison by a State Security agent who offered to release her if she gave up dissident activities.
All these intentional procedural errors demonstrate the lack of judicial guarantees and how exposed and vulnerable to state repression independent Cuban journalists are. Please share her case!

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Miranda Fuertes is human rights defender focused on Cuba and based in Prague, Czech Republic