Protesters in Cuba sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, more sentences await

Relatives and activists said on Tuesday that Cuban courts had handed prison sentences of up to 20 years to a group of people accused of participating in the protests that swept the island in July.

Twenty defendants tried in the eastern province of Holguín after trials last month were convicted of sedition. Hundreds of other people are awaiting verdicts after trials elsewhere.

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Cuba on July 11 and 12 – the largest such protests in decades on the island – many of them frustrated by shortages, low salaries and power cuts, as well as by the socialist government.

“This was terrible. Mylene Rodriguez, who said by phone that her husband, Yosefani Russell Garcia, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence… People were crying out there without consolation.

“The prosecution’s requests were very loud and the sentences are appalling,” she said from Holguín, 800 kilometers (480 miles) east of Havana.

She said relatives of the 20 were summoned to court on Monday to hear the ruling, which followed a trial in early January.

His wife said Garcia, a 33-year-old welder, denied accusations that he threw stones during the July 11-12 protests. She said he would resume.

Similar trials took place last month in Santa Clara and Mayapeque counties and in Havana, although no court rulings have been announced there yet.

While most protesters were peaceful, some vandalized or looted cars and shops, and some threw stones at police. One person died in Havana.

An activist group that tracks cases, Justice 11J, distributed copies of the rulings. She said the shortest sentences handed down related to the five-year limited liberty, but not imprisonment, of five youths aged between 16 and 17.

Cuban authorities have never reported the total number of arrests during the protests, although Justice 11J and other groups have reported about 1,300 arrests.

In August, officials reported the prosecution of 23 defendants on relatively minor charges.

In January, they announced the trial of 790 people on more serious charges such as sedition, violent attacks, theft and vandalism.

The attorney general’s office said last month that the sedition charges related to the level of violence that had emerged.

Human rights groups say the crackdown shows how Cuba’s justice system is routinely used to suppress dissent. Cuba, in turn, alleges that US-based opposition groups are trying to foment unrest through social media campaigns.

After the protests, Cuban leaders acknowledged that some of the complaints were justified and said they would seek to alleviate the hardship through social and economic programmes. The government blames the US economic embargo, not its state-centric policies, for its problems.


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