UN Human Rights Chief Calls on Cuba to Release Protesters, Journalists

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday urged Cuba to release protesters and journalists who were arrested in anti-government protests sparked by shortages of basic goods such as food and medicine.

“All those detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Bachelet expressed concern about the alleged use of force against protesters and the detention of a large number of people who included several journalists.

A journalist who was arrested Monday while covering the protests for the Spanish daily newspaper ABC was released from police custody Friday but placed under house arrest, according to the newspaper.

‘I have done nothing wrong’

“They wanted me to sign a paper saying I admitted to public disorder, but I refused. I have done nothing wrong,” ABC journalist Camille Acosta said, adding that she used her time in?prison to interview other?detainees.

“You cannot imagine how?many people have been arrested and beaten, even minors,” she said.

Bachelet called for a probe into the death of a 36-year-old protester during clashes Monday between protesters and police in Havana. She also called for an end to sanctions against the Caribbean country, “given their negative impact on human rights, including the right to health.”

Bachelet’s appeal to Cuba came one day after U.S. President Joe Biden said that Washington would review whether it could help restore the internet in Cuba, which has suffered blackouts since protests erupted over the weekend.

“They’ve cut off access to the internet. We’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” Biden told reporters at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At a regular White House media briefing Friday, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked if the Biden administration had asked American tech companies for help in restoring internet access in Cuba.

“So, it would really be led, that effort would really be led by the State Department and other appropriate entities within the federal government. As the president noted yesterday, returning internet access to Cuba would certainly be something we’d love to be a part of,” she said.

A number of U.S. lawmakers have urged the president in recent days to address connectivity issues on the island.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn told VOA on Thursday that the Biden administration must support the Cuban people in concrete ways.

“They’ve been very hesitant to step forward. And it appears that what they’re trying to do is not take sides in a fight,” Blackburn said.

“Time is of the essence here,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, according to Reuters. “Every day that the regime has to black out the truth is a day they can get the upper hand on this,” he said of the Cuban government.

Watchdog’s statement

Global internet watchdog NetBlocks has confirmed restrictions to multiple social media and messaging platforms across Cuba over the past week.

“The targeted restrictions are likely to limit the flow of information from Cuba following widespread protests on Sunday as thousands rallied against the socialist government’s policies and rising prices,” the organization said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced a 16-member Cuba advisory group to develop policies to support the Cuban protesters and hold the Cuban government accountable for human rights abuses.

“I know this team, many of whom are Cuban American and in one way or another have borne witness to the brutality of communism, will work diligently for the cause of freedom,” McCarthy said in a statement.

European leaders have also expressed their support for the Cuban people. On Monday, the foreign minister for the European Union, Josep Borrell, urged the Cuban government “to listen to these protests of discontent.”

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and other officials have blamed the unrest on social media postings by Cuban Americans and the U.S. government’s decadeslong embargo on Cuba. Sanctions and restrictions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump and a drop in tourism related to the pandemic have put extra pressure on the Cuban economy in recent years.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro expressed his government’s support for Diaz-Canel on Monday and said, “If the U.S. really wants to help Cuba, let it immediately lift the sanctions and the blockade against its people.”

The protests were the largest anti-government demonstrations in Cuba in decades.

Source: Voice Of America