Cuba approves laws granting greater rights as criticism of protesters’ arrests heats up
29 October, 2021, 7:15 pm
Cuba’s National Assembly on Thursday approved a raft of laws broadening citizens’ legal rights even as the Communist-run country comes under fire at home and abroad for a crackdown on protests earlier this year.
The changes stem from the 2019 constitution, which required reforms to modernize Cuba’s judicial and penal codes. But they address legal voids identified by activists, who allege authorities flaunted due process following unprecedented protests on the island in July.
They require, for example, defendants be notified of potential charges against them, and that those detained be granted the right to an attorney within 24 hours.
Eloy Viera, a Cuban lawyer and legal analyst who lives in Canada, said the laws were a major step forward in enshrining a citizen’s right to defend him or herself in a court of law.
But how those laws are implemented will determine whether or not Cubans see significant changes in their legal rights, said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University in Washington.
Dissidents and human rights organizations say more than 1,000 demonstrators were arrested after the July protests, the largest anti-government rallies since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Some prisoners were held without charge, incommunicado and without representation, rights groups say.
The laws passed Thursday are set to take effect in 2022. Legal analyst Viera said it was unlikely they would be retroactive.
Some legal experts said any advances in the penal code would be overshadowed by the one-party system of government.
The reforms nonetheless eliminate a long-critiqued law that allowed authorities to jail someone they said was potentially dangerous, a maneuver critics say was often used against dissidents.
Independent journalist Yoani Sanchez said that was not enough.