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Amnesty International Takes On Cuba’s Censorship on and off the Internet

By: Andrea Mejía - @@AndreMColorado - Aug 31, 2017, 11:45 am
(Enter)
According to AI, state control over the internet in Cuba threatens the freedom of speech and expression of nearly all island residents. (Enter)

EspañolThis week, Amnesty International had its eyes on Cuba for two reasons. The first involved concern for Internet censorship on the island, and the second focused on the fate of graffiti artist Yulier Rodríguez Pérez, better known as Yulier P.

AI conducted an investigation using data from the Online Open Interference Observatory between May and June 2017, in which 1,458 websites were surveyed from eight locations in Havana, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. The goal, officials said, was to “increase transparency and raise public debates about the legality and ethics of information control.”

According to AI, state control over the internet in Cuba threatens the freedom of speech and expression of nearly all island residents.

Cuba’s special brand of internet censorship

According to AI, independent journalists in Cuba work in an ill-defined legal environment under the constant threat of being arbitrarily detained. The media is limited in its work due to the meager conditions of the available Internet.

Skype and other social media services have fallen victim to the censorship of Raúl Castro’s regime, according to the report.

“Between May and mid-June 2017, OONI reviewed 1,458 web sites from eight locations in Havana, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba, which ran the websites in 30 general categories, including 1,109 international sites, mostly in a standardized list that the organization uses worldwide for OONI-probe (its application to analyze censorship), including outstanding general interest sites such as Facebook and Twitter.”

According to the report, all sites that were blocked had the same characteristics: they criticized the Cuban regime, dealt with human rights issues or explained techniques to avoid censorship. Even text messages with the word democracy or hunger strike were sometimes censored.

“The blocking of Internet sites for the sole purpose of limiting political criticism and restricting access to information is, of course, contrary to international human rights law and a violation of the right to freedom of speech,” the report said.

The regime has “methods” to deceive people so that they do not realize that they are being censored. For example, in the case of Skype, Cubans believe that the platform has flaws because contact lists disappear or messages can’t be sent. But OONI claimed this is intentional.

“When a person attempts to access a blocked site, they are redirected to a blank page without any explanation as to why the content can’t be accessed. The user finds it difficult to know if they are experiencing censorship on the Internet or if it is some kind of transient error or error of the network when loading the page.”

The dual Internet system

Cuba has two Internets — the global one most of the world uses, and the Intranet, which is cheaper and  allows content to be controlled much more easily.

According to the report, Cuban authorities believe that the Internet is a “Trojan horse” through which they will be infiltrated by the US. Despite this conspiracy theory, the regime blames connection failures on the United States embargo. Since former President Barack Obama opened relations with the island, such excuses were more difficult to believe, but have regained strength after Donald Trump announced harsher policies on the island earlier this year.

The Cuban regime reported that is plans to connect 50 percent of households by 2020, and 100 percent of Communist Party entities, state organizations and banking institutions by 2018.  However, according to the OONI, the Castro regime has not said whether that access will be for the Intranet or the global Internet.

According to the report, almost all of the Cuban population is aware that they can’t access the entire Internet, and believe they are subjected to controls and surveillance. But their response is largely one of complicity, believing that it’s normal to experience censorship.

OONI told AI that:

“When you censor the Internet, what you’re doing in practice is enforcing surveillance. To apply censorship, you must first observe. You have to know what people access to then block it. Since we see that there is censorship on the Internet, there must also be surveillance.”

The report concludes by stating that:

“With the expectation that President Raul Castro will retire in 2018, whoever occupies the presidency of the country will have the opportunity to configure the role of the Internet in Cuba’s future.”

Yulier P could be jailed, again

Amnesty International also concerned itself with a different form of censorship in Cuba this week, calling for urgent action in response to the arrest of graffiti artist Yulier Rodríguez Pérez. He was arrested in August while painting a wall in Havana.

The street artist was released on the condition that he remove the graffiti he had done, but he refused and instead presented his case to international organizations.

“(Yulier) is in danger of being jailed again, after months of intimidation and harassment by the authorities,” Amnesty Interntional said.

Perez has been accused of “mistreatment of public property,” though Perez claims the walls he paints on are “in ruins” and intends to “redecorate these spaces through culture.”

According to AI, the artist was questioned by the Castro regime “on his interviews with the international press” and is under threat of facing a criminal process for “being dangerous.”

Pérez’s case is not the only one threatening the freedom of artistic expression. Danilo Maldonado, better known as “El Sexto” was imprisoned for about 10 months in 2015 for performance art that featured the use of two pigs labeled “Raúl” and “Fidel.” Maldonado was also taken to prison in 2016 for writing “he’s gone”on a wall after Fidel Castro passed away.

Source: Cubanet I, Cubanet II

Andrea Mejía Andrea Mejía

Andrea Mejía edits in Spanish for the PanAm Post. She earned a degree in philosophy from Universidad de la Salle, Colombia.