HAVANA TIMES – Cuban authorities should immediately drop all criminal charges against journalist Iliana Hernández, return her equipment, and allow her to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 8, at around 7:50 a.m., agents from the National Revolutionary Police and Cuban Intelligence Directorate raided the Havana home of Hernández, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CiberCuba, and confiscated documents and equipment, including her computer and cell phone, according to Hernández, who spoke with CPJ via phone.
Following the raid, agents gave Hernández a citation saying she had been charged with receiving stolen property, and ordering her to appear before police on January 13, according to Hernández and a copy of the citation that she posted to Twitter. Authorities released Hernández later on January 8 on 1,000 Cuban pesos ($39) bail, but did not return her equipment, she said.
The crime of “receiving stolen property,” which relates to the possession of goods that a person could “rationally suppose” were obtained illegally, is punishable by up to one year in prison, according to the Cuban penal code.
On January 13, Hernández presented herself at the police station and provided agents with documentation certifying that she had lawfully obtained the computer, phone, and other items, but said the officers would not accept the documents. Officers then took her to see an inspector from the Ministry of Communications, who threatened to fine her for having breached Decree 370, which criminalizes disseminating “information contrary to the social interest, morals, good manners and integrity of people” on public networks, she said.
Since January 13, Hernández told CPJ she went to the provincial and municipal prosecutors’ offices to ask about her case, but has not been informed of a future date to appear in court, and described her situation as “limbo.”
“Cuban authorities should immediately drop their trumped-up charges against journalist Iliana Hernández and cease threatening her with further legal action,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Working for independent media and possessing basic reporting equipment is not a crime. Cuban authorities must return Hernández’s computer and phone and allow her to work freely.”
CiberCuba’s website is blocked in Cuba, CPJ has documented. Hernández told CPJ that readers access the page through Facebook or by using proxies.
Hernández told CPJ that she has reported for CiberCuba since December 2018, and has reported pieces on issues such as crime, community news, and corruption allegations. She added that she hosts a live-stream program on CiberCuba’s Facebook page, where she provides commentary on the news of the day.
Hernández told CPJ that she has both Cuban and Spanish citizenship, and said that she informed the Spanish consulate in Cuba of her situation.
CPJ emailed the Cuban Ministry of the Interior for comment, but did not receive a response. CPJ also called the National Revolutionary Police, but no one answered the phone.
Cuba is one of the most hostile environments for the press in the world, and ranks among CPJ’s 10 Most Censored Countries.