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Cuban journalists detained during historic demonstrations; some whereabouts unknown and one faces charges

UPDATE (JULY 31): Henry Constantín, Iris Mariño and Neife Rigau have been released, but are under house arrest and are accused of public disorder, as reported by Infobae.

ORIGINAL (JULY 14): Journalists have been detained in Cuba following historic demonstrations throughout the island that started on July 11 amid food and medication shortages.

Henry Constantín, Iris Mariño García, Neife Rigau and Orelvys Cabrera Sotolongo have not been located, according to a July 13 letter signed by 34 organizations and 10 media outlets calling on the Cuban government to respect freedom of expression.

Palenque Vision journalists Niober García Fournier and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina have been released after being detained in Guantánamo, but fined 3,000 pesos, as reported by CubaNet, where they also collaborate.

Additionally, Camila Acosta, CubaNet journalist and correspondent for Spain’s ABC, was detained on July 12 and will be prosecuted for the alleged crimes of public disorder and desacato, as reported by CubaNet.

It is not the first run-in Acosta has had with Cuban authorities.

In November 2020, she told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) about the detentions, evictions and broken equipment she has suffered.

“I trust that the solution is not to turn your back on the problems, it is not to run away either. We are doing a very strong job here in Cuba, which is helping to unmask this system,” the journalist said at the time. “That is why they have this fight against me and I will persist, as long as I can. I still have strength.”

In addition to detentions, a gruesome photo following an assault suffered by Associated Press photojournalist Ramón Espinosa in Havana was caught by AFP photographer Adalberto Roque. The French news agency reported Espinosa was attacked by police.

Maykel González Vivero, director of digital outlet Tremenda Nota, was detained by police and accused of throwing stones, as he reported via Twitter. González, who has since been released, denied ever throwing a stone.

“They bent me over and grabbed me hard by the hair,” he wrote. “They did it to punish me. There was no other reason. I never resisted.”

Aside from physical assault and detentions of journalists and protesters alike, the free flow of information has also been affected in Cuba over the past few days.

Doug Madory of platform Kentik reported via Twitter that “internet traffic to/from Cuba dropped to zero” on the afternoon of July 11.

Starting July 12, NetBlocks found disruption to WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Telegram on government-owned telecom provider ETECSA. The observatory noted that virtual private networks (VPNs), which are used by many on the island to avoid censorship, “remain effective.”

“The Cuban regime has just shown, once again, its own face,” Normando Hernández, director general of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP, for its acronym in Spanish), told LJR.

“Physically assaulting, arresting and confining communicators within their own homes under the threat of imprisonment, taking away their internet connection with every intention that they cannot carry out their work and criminally prosecuting journalists for covering a public demonstration are crimes against humanity,” he said. “ICLEP condemns the liberticidal regime of President Miguel Díaz-Canel and calls on the international community so that the crimes of the Cuban regime do not go unpunished. Doing journalism is not a crime.”

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