You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Biden administration bans five Cuban judges involved in ‘unfair’ trials from entering U.S.

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 6/17/2022 Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

The Biden administration banned five Cuban judges from entering the United States over their involvement in “unfair trials” of anti-government protesters who took to the streets on July 11 last year, the State Department said Friday.

“We took steps to suspend entry into the United States of five Cuban judges,” a State Department spokesperson told the Herald. “These judges are connected to unfair trials and unjust sentencing and imprisonment of peaceful July 11, 2021, protesters.”

In a statement, the State Department cited a Reagan-era presidential proclamation that suspends “non immigrant entry” into the United States of officers and employees of the Cuban government as the legal basis for the visa restrictions. Before Friday’s announcement, the Biden administration had banned 17 Cuban officials from entering the country over their role in the detention and sentencing of July 11 protesters.

“The Cuban justice system is widely known to manufacture false or unjust charges such as ‘sedition’ against peaceful protesters, to silence dissidents and intimidate critics,” Brian A. Nichols, State’s assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere affairs, said on Twitter. “Restricting visas is another step towards promoting accountability.”

The State Department spokesperson said the agency could not disclose the names of the five officials because visa records are confidential under U.S. law.

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez said the travel ban was an “act of aggression” based on “mendacious and absolutely unfounded allegations.”

The announcement comes after the Cuban General Attorney’s Office confirmed Monday that Cuban judges had passed sentences to 381 protesters, including 16 teenagers between 16 and 18 years old, under “sedition” and “sabotage” charges. The Cuban government first denied it was prosecuting minors.

Thirty-six protesters charged with “sedition” received sentences of up to 25 years in prison. Courts of appeal reduced the sentences of 15 of the teenagers, but the General Attorney’s office warned they could return to jail if they break the conditions dictated by the courts.

Previously, the Herald reported that Cuban courts of appeal had reduced the long sentences the local courts had handed down to at least 31 minors and young adults who participated in the July demonstrations. Most were temporarily released, but some were sent back to jail.

Activists said they believe the government agreed to the releases in anticipation of a critical evaluation by the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child published this month urging Cuba to put “an end to any arbitrary restrictions and criminalization of children’s exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” in reference to the teenagers imprisoned for participating in the demonstrations.

So far, 297 protesters had been given prison sentences, the General Attorney’s Office said. But it did not provide any details of hundreds of pending cases. In January, the office said it was prosecuting more than 700 people who participated in last year’s demonstrations, including 55 between the ages of 16 and 18.

Activists say the Cuban government has not been transparent with the data regarding the arrests and the trials in connection with the July protests. Justicia 11J and Cubalex, two groups monitoring the situation of the prisoners, said they have documented at least 1,481 detentions and that 732 people remain in jail.

Several organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said several July 11 protesters did not have fair trials and that the harsh sentences are disproportionate.

Despite international condemnation, the trials have continued. On Friday, a court of appeal in Havana was expected to hear the case of Brenda Diaz, a transgender woman sentenced to 14 years for participating in the demonstrations in the town of Guira de Melena, near Havana.

Also on Friday, 18 human rights and civil organizations, including Penn America, published a statement calling on the Cuban government to immediately release visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and rapper Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo. They were tried on May 30 and 31 and have been in jail since last July.

They are prominent voices of the dissident group of artists and academics known as Movimiento San Isidro. Castillo was the winner of two Grammys for the song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem for the protesters. They were charged with contempt, defamation, public disorder and face sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

“The charges filed against both artists reflect the contempt of Cuban authorities for freedom of artistic expression and an alarming tendency to employ persecution, arbitrary arrests and accusations against dissenting voices,” the group said.

©2022 Miami Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon