Cuban anti-government protesters get up to 30 years behind bars

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HAVANA, March 18 (Reuters) Cuba said late on Wednesday it had sentenced upwards of 100 protesters in Havana to between 4 and 30 years in prison for violence committed during island-wide demonstrations last year, the largest since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

The Supreme Court said in a statement that those convicted had “tried violently to subvert the constitutional order.” Most were from poor, marginalized neighborhoods of the capital Havana that were a hotbed of protests last July.

The Cuban government has previously accused the United States of funding and fomenting the protests.

“They threw stones and bottles at various officials, law enforcement officers, National Revolutionary Police facilities, patrol cars; They overturned a motorcycle and cars…and caused injuries to other people and serious material damage,” the statement said.

The July 11-12 protests saw thousands take to the streets in towns and cities nationwide. Many chanted “freedom” as they marched, furious over shortages of food, medicine and electricity at a time when coronavirus cases had soared in Cuba.

More than 700 people across Cuba have been accused of crimes in connection with the demonstrations, including vandalism, assault against people or property, and grave public disorder, Cuban prosecutors have said.

Human rights groups, the U.S. government and the European Union have said the trials lack transparency and due process, and that long jail sentences already handed down were disproportionate with the crimes committed.

Alcide Firdo, 47, of La Guinera in Havana, said his son, 22-year-old Jaime Firdo, had been given 11 years in prison for sedition, a sentence he considered too steep for the crime committed.

“It’s too many years just for having thrown a few rocks,” said Firdo. “What they are doing with these boys is inhuman, they are destroying a young life.”

The Supreme Court said judges handed down sentences based on the “degree of participation, the personal conditions of those involved, as well as the seriousness, harmfulness and violence of the crimes.”

More than 30 of those tried and convicted by a lower Havana court have been sentenced to between 20 and 30 years in prison, while dozens more face between 4 and 20 years behind bars, according to the Supreme Court’s statement. Those convicted may still appeal, it added.

The protests in Havana’s poor neighborhoods of La Esquina de Toyo and La Guinera were among the island’s most violent.

Elsewhere, the rallies were largely peaceful, although state media showed scattered incidents of looting and stone-throwing at police in cities throughout Cuba.