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Cuba’s Government Throws Its Repressive Playbook at a Journalist

Camila Acosta Endures a Year of Harassment, Arrest, and Forced Relocation

Journalist Camila Acosta wears a facemask saying “no to Decree 370,” a 2019 law curtailing free speech in Cuba, on August 1, 2020. © Camila Acosta

The Cuban government’s brutal restrictions on free speech fall particularly hard on journalists. Camila Acosta has learned this from experience. In just the one year since August 2019, when she began working as an independent journalist for the news website CubaNet, Acosta has endured multiple instances of targeted abuse.

Earlier this summer, Acosta was waiting for friends in a park in Havana when two officers asked for her ID, arrested her, and took her to a police station. Inside her bag, they found several facemasks reading, “No to Decree 370,” an abusive 2019 law forbidding the dissemination of information “contrary to the social interest.” The officers forced Acosta to strip her clothes and searched her further, she told Human Rights Watch. The police fined her and threatened further prosecution for protesting the decree.

But this was only the most recent in a string of multiple incidents of harassment against Acosta.

In November 2019, an immigration official stopped Acosta as she was trying to board a plane for a human rights event in Argentina. He said she was forbidden to leave the country, Acosta told Human Rights Watch.

Since February, Acosta has been forced to move houses in Havana at least six times. Each time she rented a new house, the owners soon told her she had to leave. Some said police had chastised them for hosting a “dissident.”

In March, police arbitrarily detained Acosta as she was covering a demonstration in Havana. During a two-hour interrogation, one officer threatened to prosecute her for allegedly “usurping public functions” by reporting the news.

The police eventually let her go. But two weeks later, she was summoned back to a police station, where an officer showed her three of her recent Facebook posts, including a meme of Fidel Castro. The officer invoked Decree 370 and imposed a fine of 3,000 Cuban pesos (roughly US$120), several times the average salary in Cuba.

This repeated weaponizing of Cuba’s free speech restrictions against Acosta leads to the question: Why are authorities so afraid to let a journalist do her job?

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