Cuba’s parliament has approved a new penal code that officials say modernizes the country’s laws, but human rights groups warn it is already tightening strict limits on dissent.
The law approved late Sunday controls unauthorized contact with foreign organizations and individuals and explicitly prohibits foreign funding.
Supreme Court President Rubén Remigio Ferro called it a “modern and very inclusive code”, telling state television that it favors “prevention and education before repression” while imposing ” sufficiently stringent sanctions” against crimes which affect “the social peace and stability of our nation”.
It will take effect after passing through the editorial committee and then publication in the official journal.
Cuban authorities have never had trouble punishing dissent they consider dangerous. Hundreds of people have been arrested for taking part in the July 2021 protests across the island and some have been sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges including sedition. Freelance journalists have sometimes been imprisoned on various charges, often choosing to leave the island.
Under the new law, sentences of 10 to 30 years – even death in extreme cases – can be imposed on those who give information to international organizations, associations or even people who have not been authorized by the government.
It eliminates the vague and widespread offense of “precriminal dangerousness” that was sometimes used against dissidents, but creates new categories of crimes.
Those who insult or attack officials or civilians doing their “civic duty” can be imprisoned for up to five years. A similar sentence can be imposed on those who “incite” against the socialist order – and 10 years for those who use the means of communication to do so.
Among the most contested clauses is the prohibition of any unauthorized funding from international or domestic sources that contributes to the commission of a crime. This article does not affect remittances from Cubans living abroad.
“With the new penal code, the Cuban authorities continue to implement a complex and perverse legal regime of censorship and deal a devastating blow to independent journalists and media,” said Ana Cristina Núñez, senior researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
The new code strengthens penalties for corruption, speculation and hoarding.
Despite some complaints, it maintains a potential death penalty for 23 crimes – although this has not been applied since 2003 – and adds penalties when the crimes involve gender-based violence or crimes against minors and people with disabilities.
The age of criminal responsibility remains at 16.
This law “is a more direct way for the government to guard against civil society, against political dissent,” said Saily González, a leading activist tracking the response to the 2021 protests.
Lawmakers refused to include a measure backed by Mariela Castro, daughter of former President Raúl Castro, to make femicide an explicit crime. Another lawmaker, Teresa Amarelle, leader of the Cuban Women’s Federation, said this was not necessary due to the new toughening of sanctions against gender-based violence.