A Cuban TV show called this issue into question and the online backlash came immediately.
HAVANA TIMES – “Is it legal to take photos or a video of a police officer on duty?”, Cuban lawyer Humberto Lopez asked last Wednesday July 10th, on an episode of his “Hacemos Cuba” TV show. The response was a kind of “yes, but no”, which led to different interpretations and a heated debate on social media, ever since.
The answer came from Joaquin Collado, lawyer and provincial assistant director of the National Organization of Law Firms in the central province of Villa Clara, who stated that the act in itself wasn’t a crime.
Collado explained that recording a police officer isn’t illegal or constitute a crime. “Police officers are civil servants in a public space, and they don’t hide their identity while working,” he summarized.
However – and this is where the controversy arose -, “if this image is uploaded onto a digital platform without this person’s consent, then you are using it without their authorization,” he pointed out.
The lawyer insisted that police officers, as individuals, are also protected by Article 48 of the Constitution, which stipulates that everyone “has the right to have their private and family matters, image and voice, honor and personal identity, respected.”
As a result, posting photos or videos of a police officer becomes a crime as the unauthorized use of an image. “You could put their personal and family’s wellbeing at risk. As well as putting the result of their job in jeopardy,” the lawyer added.
Collado also said that if the intent of the publication is to defame police actions (he didn’t say if it mattered if these actions were right or wrong), it is an administrative violation, which is subject to a fine, because it violates Decree-Law 370 passed in 2018, by the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications.
“An act that starts off being legal, can end up becoming illegal,” he concluded.
Such statements quickly led to great debate on social media, especially in regard to the double standard of Article 48 and unpopular Decree-Law 370, and their implementation.
Different interpretations can be found on the show too, depending on what is better suited. On an episode of the show broadcast on June 3rd, Maricela Sosa, vice-president of the People’s Supreme Court, made some complex statements to try and help people understand this process.
As the program host himself confirmed, one of the most frequent questions on the program in recent weeks include those linked to the projection of images, on national TV and in the general press, of people who have allegedly committed crimes of embezzlement and other similar acts. Photos, videos, conversations and even personal information have been revealed in reports that are released every day in Cuba’s state-controlled media.
When asked whether this violates the presumption of innocence principle that is stipulated in Article 95 of the Constitution, or whether it damages the image of the person as stipulated in Article 48 (which I’ve mentioned above), Sosa responded that the press has to violate this principle. “You are talking about acts that are public,” she said.
That is to say, yes, the state media can publish people’s faces because they are involved in acts of public knowledge; which contradicts what Collado later said. What constitutes a crime in one case, doesn’t constitute a crime in another.
Nevertheless, Collado insisted that images must be published with the person’s consent, although it is unclear whether this has always been the case. He also raised the issue that press reports shouldn’t assume suspects of alleged criminal acts are in the fact the perpetrators of these crimes, nor should it make statements or ask questions that might lead people to give information that could harm them. This was pretty much the main dish on many news reports, especially at the beginning of the broadcast.
In debates on social networks, there were many opinions and points of view that appeared in regard to the interpretation of laws on this TV show, about taking photos or recording videos of police officers. IPS Cuba has summarized them here:
Double interpretations: as we’ve already mentioned, in some cases, like financial crimes, acts and individuals are considered public and their image can be diffused in mass media; while in other cases, such as recording a police officer, who is a “civil servant in a public space”, as lawyers themselves insist, it becomes an issue of the indecent use of an individual’s personal image.
Media and the law: similar to the previous questioning, other criticism is linked to how state media constantly publishes citizens’ photos and videos, or other media formats, about police brutality in different countries, where consent has clearly not been given. Even when the law applies just to natural or legal persons in Cuba, this dissemination is considered hypocritical to what the State defends.
Informed consent: following the same media issue, controversy online argued that if the right of informed consent was applied properly, the majority of reports and audiovisual content on TV couldn’t be broadcast, because this isn’t a systematic practice in Cuban media. In fact, image rights are a pending issue in many spheres of the country.
Lack of awareness of the law: while opinions reproach not being able to publish images, they also insist that police officers don’t allow them to record. Several comments mentioned complaints of mistreatment and even police brutality against people for recording or taking photos of these representatives of the law.
Recordings as proof and evidence: meanwhile, other ideas warned that not being able to publish photos or videos limited options to publicly denounce actions linked to police misconduct.
According to Internet users, having access to this material is important as proof of violations of the law, which the police do on a regular basis, they said. Recordings respond to a motive, they add, “not to tarnish their personal image, but to denounce their work as civil servants. And that is a civil right.”
Several Internet users even gave the example of George Floyd, who died in police custody, saying that if it hadn’t been for videos recorded in the US, nobody would have known. Many press reports in Cuba have spoken about the issue freely and reproduced photos of the four police officers involved in the terrible loss of life, which has fed the fire that is anti-racism activism worldwide.