In Cuba, people arrested during protests go on trial; some face 30-year sentences

HAVANA – Relatives of Cubans arrested during the largest demonstrations across the island in decades said at least 57 protesters will face justice this week, some of whom face prison terms of up to 30 years.

Relatives told The Associated Press that three riot trials were planned, 21 of which were in the eastern city of Holguín, 20 in Havana and 16 in Santa Clara.

Officials initially appeared surprised when thousands of Cubans took to the streets in cities across the island on July 11 and 12 to protest product shortages, power outages and economic hardship – some also calling for a change of government.

Cuban authorities admitted some complaints were justified, but said the United States was the real force behind the protests, which appear to have been partially mobilized through recently approved social networks.

At least one person died, several shops and vehicles were destroyed or burned.

Officials never disclosed an official number of arrests during the protests, although court officials said there were 23 quick trials in August against 67 defendants charged with lesser charges, such as public unrest.

Since then, prosecutors have formalized more serious charges such as sedition against other defendants, said Salomé García of Justice 11J – a group with members in Cuba and abroad trying to track down the detainees’ cases.

The organization said it has confirmed 1,334 arrests, 223 convictions on various charges, and 231 others on charges. It said 98 people had been fined.

The group said that 48 people under the age of 18 were among the first detainees – the age of criminal responsibility in Cuba is 16 – although several of them have since been released.

Roxana García, the sister of 24-year-old defendant Andy Dunier Garcia, said she was told the trials are expected to take three to four days. Her brother is charged with public disturbance, assault and disregard for authority in Santa Clara.

She said the defense attorney appeared to be doing a good job and said the only witnesses against the defendants were “the same police who beat them”.

In Havana, Yaquelín Cruz said her 20-year-old son Dariel Cruz would be sentenced by prosecutors to 15 years for sedition in order to overthrow a legitimate government. She said her son was recently stabbed to death in prison.

Justice 11J’s list of cases indicates that some in Holguín are sentenced to 30 years in prison on the same charge.

Several relatives said they had been told that only one family member for each of the accused would be admitted to the courtroom.

The government authorities did not immediately respond to requests for information about the cases.

The United States has denied mobilizing the protests and responded to Cuba’s crackdown on the demonstrations with sanctions against officials it believes were involved.

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