Cuban priest decries summary trials of protesters without a defense lawyer

Cuba protest Protests in Havana, July 11, 2021. | Domitille P/Shutterstock

Participants in last month’s protests of Cuba’s communist government are facing summary trials without adequate legal aid, a Jesuit priest serving in Havana said last week.

Following last month’s protests summary trials continue to be held in Cuba, which are legal and “fall under  Criminal Law Procedures," but "leave the accused without a defense,” Fr. Eduardo Llorens, a lawyer by profession, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, July 30.

Fr. Llorens, 57, is a Jesuit serving in Havana. 

“The lawyer can appear in person and see the file a few moments before the trial, if the relatives manage to raise the money and find a lawyer who wants to defend the case. It’s practically impossible for the defense in such a short time to seek other evidence that exonerates his client. The witnesses (make the case against the defendant) and the police who made the arrest, many of whom don’t remember the faces of the accused, as they say they detained a lot of people,” Fr. Llorens stated.

“If we add to the above that the official discourse in the only existing press, the government’s, is about the application of the 'weight of the law' all the time, the result is maximum prison sentences for crimes that, if proven, include fines,” he said.

Protests took place across Cuba July 11-12. Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and hundreds were arrested.

Fr. Llorens is also a member of the support services of the Cuban Conference of Religious Men and Women, which focuses on providing advice for filing habeas corpus appeals, assistance in locating detainees, guidance on the facts to be determined, and the spiritual/psychological accompaniment of relatives following the events of July 11.

"We especially dedicate ourselves to the spiritual and psychological accompaniment of relatives and detainees if they are released, since the way and manner in which they are arrested and their stay in detention centers causes psychological problems in many cases," he commented.

The international press reported that 12 Cubans arrested in the protests were sentenced July 21 to 10 months to one year in prison after a summary trial in which most of them did not have a lawyer.

The BBC reported July 24 that Gabriela Zequeira, 17, had been sentenced, along with 11 other defendants, to eight months in prison in one of the summary trials after being found guilty of "public disorder."

According to Fr. Llorens,the exact numbers of arrests have not been reported by the government, but independent organizations mention between 700 and 1,000 detainees.

“What’s certain is that a lot of people were arrested. Some are at home under house arrest awaiting trial, others out on bail and the large majority are being held in custody awaiting trials,” the priest said.

Fr. Llorens also noted that last week "about 50 people were tried," and of these, "some due to international pressure and after filing an appeal with the Provincial Court, have been placed under house arrest pending an appeals trial. These have been especially high-profile or well-known cases.”

“If to all of the above we add the convolutedness of Cuban laws (especially on criminal procedure), the lack of a legal culture in the Cuban population, and the ignorance of the vast majority of the families of those detained in criminal proceedings, the final result is a cocktail of ignorance of the law, which the authorities take advantage of,” the priest explained.

Fr. Llorens said that the protests continued July 12, “but then there were no more, at least not as large as those on July 11."

"It’s logical that when the streets are militarized and the entire repressive apparatus is mobilized, there’s no chance to peacefully demonstrate," he emphasized.

He also denounced paramilitaries “willing to go out to beat and suppress those who are demonstrating peacefully."

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The Cuban priest also charged that “the Cuban state stole the narrative of the events of July 11 by cutting off the internet throughout the island” and “at the same time it rolled out a campaign of verbal and physical violence against the participants, labeling them CIA agents, annexationists, traitors to the homeland.”

He commented that Cuba “is a completely failed state in crisis and has not been able to minimally manage not only the difficulties of previous years, but the accumulation of problems that is making the minimum functioning of a country unsustainable."

“This will continue to create dissatisfaction in the population, maintaining the conditions for new peaceful demonstrations. The Cuban people in the last 62 years had not demonstrated in this way against the regime, now they have lost their fear,” he said.

Finally, the Jesuit priest said that "a large part of Cuban society spoke out loud and clear on July 11: Freedom, this is the great need of the Cuban people … To achieve freedom is not going to be an easy task, but in faith many will continue what was unleashed on July 11.”

"Meanwhile we continue to stand up for the dignity of all people, for the right to demonstrate peacefully and not be imprisoned for doing so," the priest concluded.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

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