HAVANA, Feb. 16th Cuban courts have handed out sentences of up to 20 years in prison to a group of people accused of taking part in protests that swept across the island in July.
The 20 defendants sentenced in the eastern province of Holguín were convicted after trials last month on charges of sedition. Hundreds of other people await verdicts following trials elsewhere.
Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Cuba on 11 and 12 July — the largest such protests in decades on the island – many frustrated with shortages, low salaries and power outages, as well as with the socialist government.
“This was terrible … People have been crying, inconsolable there,” said Mailyn Rodríguez, who said by telephone that her husband Yosvany Rosell García had been sentenced to 20 years after prosecutors had sought a 30-year sentence.
“The prosecution requests were too high and the sentences horrific,” she said from Holguín, some 800km (480 miles) east of Havana.
She said relatives of the 20 were summoned to the court on Monday to hear the verdict, which followed a trial in early January.
García, a 33-year-old welder, had denied accusations he threw stones during the protests, his wife said. She said he would appeal.
Similar trials also took place last month in the provinces of Santa Clara and Mayabeque and in Havana, though no verdicts have yet been announced there.
While most of the protesters were peaceful, some vandalized or looted vehicles and shops and some threw stones at police. One person died in Havana.
An activist group that follows the cases, Justice 11J, distributed copies of the sentences. It said the shortest penalties handed out involved five years of limited liberty, but not jail, for five youths aged 16 to 17.
Cuban authorities have never reported the total number of arrests during the protests, though Justice 11J and other groups have reported about 1,300 arrests.
In August, officials reported 23 trials of 67 defendants on relatively minor charges.
In January, they announced the trials of 790 people on more serious charges such as sedition, violent attacks, theft and vandalism.
The attorney general’s office said last month that the sedition charges related ″to the level of violence demonstrated”.
Human rights groups say the crackdown shows how Cuba’s judicial system is routinely used to snuff out dissent. Cuba, in turn, alleges US-based opposition groups are trying to instigate unrest through social media campaigns.
After the protests, Cuban leaders acknowledged some complaints were justified and said they would seek to alleviate distress through social and economic programs. The government blames a US economic embargo, rather than its state-centred policies, for its problems.
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