HAVANA TIMES – Luis Robles Elizastigui was arrested on December 4, 2020, while protesting alone on the San Rafael Pedestrian Boulevard, in Havana, with a written sign asking for freedom, the end of State repression and rapper Denis Solis’ release.
Solis served his full sentence and was finally released in July 2021, when Robles had already spent eight months in prison. He has been in what they call “pre-trial detention” since his arrest, at the Combinado del Este prison. A year after his arrest, he has yet to go to trial and receive a sentence.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office is asking for a six-year prison sentence for Robles. Enemy propaganda and disobedience are the crimes he is being charged with.
The Cuban State could justify its lack of urgency in the case with the defense that the Criminal Procedure Code in force today doesn’t stipulate a time limit for pre-trial detention. However, citizens such as Robles, who are charged with crimes that can be sentenced with more than a one-year prison sentence, must be taken to trial or dismissed (released without any charges) within 60 days.
In spite of the above, there is no legal provision that establishes the release of a defendent who hasn’t appeared before the Court after 60 days in pre-trial detention.
The key problem here lies in the fact that the current Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that criminal investigations can be extended up to six months by judges or indefinitely by the Public Prosecutor’s Office which, as stipulated in Article 107, is “able to grant a new period for the final sentence of a case in a prepatory proceeding.”
Thus, the defendent could stay in pre-trial detention indefinitely, while their case isn’t taken to court.
Cuba’s new Criminal Procedures Law – passed in October 2021 by the National Assembly and whose effective date still remains unknown – does state that after a defendent spends a year in pre-trial detention, the Public Prosecutor’s Office or Court, depending on whom the responsibility corresponds to, must reach a decision about the deprivation of liberty.
This new legislation only guarantees a review after the defendent spends 12 months in pre-trial detention and that a ruling be made, which doesn’t mean the measure can’t be amended.
The most striking thing about Robles’s case, which proves just how politicized the Cuban justice system is, is that his investigation was closed and his case was presented in Court before March 18, 2020 at least, when the Provisional Findings of the case were presented. There is no legal reason for him to stay in prison without a trial.
The Provisional Findings were issued by public prosecutor Yanaisa Matos Legra. The document states that “provocations” are punishable. In this respect, the document reads that the 29-year-old man intended “to start an incitement in a crowded place” while exercising his right to protest.
The text also outlines the reasons why the citizen is being charged with disobedience. According to the Provisional Findings, Robles ignored police officer Vladimir Rodriguez Despaigne’s attempt to deter him; therefore, his attitude constitutes the crime he is being charged with.
Videos about Robles’ arrest that went viral on social media don’t show any attempt from the police to deter him. On the other hand, the explicit justification for charging him with the crime of enemy propaganda lies in the fact that Robles refused to leave the protest with his sign raised and continuously shouting “freedom”. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, this action led to disorder among the people present, and some of them joined him and shouted identical phrases, while others filmed what happened.
Robles didn’t create the disorder, instead it came from the police intervention and the resulting arbitrary arrest.
The Provisional Findings were recognized by the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The institution set the oral trial against Robles Elizastigui for July 16, 2021. After anti-government protests on July 11th (11J), the hearing was canceled.
However, Cuban courts have tried and sentenced dozens of protestors after 11J. In the meantime, Robles continues to await his trial date for a much less significant event, from a criminal standpoint, than what happened during the July protests.
During his year in pre-trial detention, Robles has suffered constant violations of his human rights. On December 2, Luis Robles made a phone call to the Ladies in White’s main office and told them that he had been a victim of torture and psychological violence, that he had been chained for hours on end and had been sent to the punishment cell five times; the past two times for having reported the harassment happening inside prison. Since August, Cuban judicial authorities have denied him two changes in his preventive prison situation.
If trying Luis Robles was a repressive, unjust and disproportionate act before July 11th, trying him after 11J seems a lot worse.