U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist

Roberto Jesús Quiñones, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CubaNet, has a history of harassment by Cuban authorities. He is barred from leaving the country and has been detained several times. [1]

Most Recent Cuban Charges Against Journalist

The most recent Cuban persecution of Quiñones started on April 18, 2019, when police agents forcefully took him off of a bus, brought him to a police station, and interrogated him, with an officer telling him “we are taking note of your articles.”

Three days later (April 21) he was arrested outside of the Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal, where he was covering the trial of two Cuban evangelical pastors facing charges for homeschooling their children. While the police took him to the police station, he was beaten, injuring his mouth, tongue, and right thumb and causing an inflammation in his right ear.

When he was released from jail five days later, Cuban authorities initiated a new proceeding against him, alleging that his conduct during his detention constituted “resistance” and “disobedience,” for which they imposed a fine, which he refused to pay.

This refusal to pay the fine lead to a trial in a municipal court and to its August 7th  sentencing Quiñones, to one year in a labor camp on charges of “resistance” and “disobedience.” His appeal to another court for a new trial was denied on August 19.

After the most recent detention of Quiñones, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said, “The ongoing pattern of detentions of independent journalists like Roberto Jesús Quiñones shows that recent political reforms have not improved the situation for the press. If President Miguel Díaz-Canel wants to show the world that his government is committed to positive change in Cuba, authorities should immediately free Quiñones without charge and stop harassing journalists.”

The one-year sentence also drew this rebuke from the Committee’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “The fact that Roberto Quiñones is sentenced to prison for failing to pay a fine, while the police agents who beat and detained him for days receive no punishment, is outrageous. If authorities in Cuba want to convey an image of progress and openness to the international community, mistreating, jailing, and fining a journalist sends the wrong message.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Reaction

All of this prompted U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on August 21 to issue a statement condemning the journalist’s prosecution and calling “upon the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quinones and to cease their abuse and mistreatment.” Pompeo also said his “detention and trial were marked by the flagrant disregard for legal norms that are typical of the Cuban regime.  Cuban authorities did not inform Quinones of the charges against him until minutes before the trial, and did not permit him legal representation in the courtroom.  The regime’s prosecutors did not permit Quinones to present evidence of his injuries at the hands of the police who arrested him. Adding cruelty to injustice, regime officials have refused to allow Quinones to visit his ailing father.”

Pompeo concluded with these words. “Sadly, this is just one more example of the Cuban regime’s ongoing violation of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial guarantees.  We will continue to use targeted sanctions and trade restrictions to cut off resources from the Cuban regime, which uses its income to repress its own people, and to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

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[1] Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuban police detain and beat journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones in Guantánamo (April 24, 2019); The regime sanctions independent journalist Roberto Jeśus Quiñones Haces to one year in jail, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2019); Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuba sentences journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones to one-year prison term (Aug. 8, 2019); The journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones asks to have a new trial, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 12, 2019); The regime refuses to hold a new trial against Roberto Jesús Quiñones, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: On the Prosecution of Cuban Journalist Roberto Quinones (Aug. 21, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Urges Cuba to Drop Criminal Charges Against Journalist, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019).