As mass trials continue for Cubans allegedly involved in anti-government protests held last July, some of those convicted are seeing sentences as long as 30 years.
The protests, which took place on July 11 and 12, were triggered by problems like lack of power and goods caused by economic issues on the island, the Associated Press reported.
According to the Miami Herald, mass trials have been held for the protesters in the past few weeks, with 66 tried just last week and another 45 scheduled for this week. Charges range from resisting police and disrespecting the flag to more serious accusations like sedition, which can carry sentences lasting decades.
The Florida newspaper said so far, five of the protesters, including one with a mental disability, have received sentences ranging from 15 to 30 years.
The AP reported human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called the government crackdown on protesters an attempt to silence them, which the government has denied.
The Guardian reported that 18-year-old Eloy Cardoso is one of the many young people facing extreme consequences for their actions in July. Cardoso was walking to his friend’s house in the La Güinera neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana when he walked into a protest. The young man allegedly threw stones at police during the protest.
He was arrested a few days later, according to The Guardian. While he initially was only going to be charged with public disorder, his charge was upgraded to sedition, and this week he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Servillia Pedroso, Cardoso’s mother, told The Guardian the government wants “to make an example of him.”
People across the country have spoken out against the long sentences. According to the Herald, 21-year-old Walnier Luis Aguilar Rivera, who has a mental disability, was sentenced to 23 years in prison. This prompted his father, Luis Wilber Aguilar, to make a Facebook video directed at government officials asking them to “stop the abuse.”
“Everyone in Cuba has a family member in prison,” Aguilar was quoted by the Herald speaking in his video. “They are touching the most sensitive part of the people, the children. I cannot sleep thinking about anything else; I feel too much pain. What do I do as a parent if I remain silent, letting my son take 23 years? A 21-year-old boy who has two little girls?”
The Havana Times reported some Cubans are even protesting the sentences from within prison, with 10 prisoners in the town of Holguín going on a hunger strike after a prosecutor pursued sentences of 18 years or more for at least five people, one of them only 20 years old.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, told The Guardian these protesters have not received a fair trial.
“Prosecutors have pushed for disproportionately long sentences against people who were arrested in the protests,” Guevara-Rosas said. “In addition, many people stand accused of vague crimes that are inconsistent with international standards, such as ‘contempt,’ which has been consistently used in Cuba to punish those who criticize the government.”
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