HAVANA, CUBA —
A Cuban man who took part in unprecedented nationwide street protests in July has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, the stiffest punishment yet of anyone who defied the communist government in those rallies, his family and a human rights group said Saturday.
The sentence against Roberto Perez Fonseca, 38, was handed down by a court in San Jose de las Lajas, a town 35 kilometers (20 miles) from Havana.
On July 11 and 12, thousands of Cubans shouting “freedom” and “we are hungry” took to the streets in about 50 cities and towns to protest harsh living conditions and government repression.
The rallies, which had no precedent since the Cuban revolution of 1959, left at least one person dead and dozens injured as security forces cracked down.
Around 1,130 people were arrested, and more than half of them remain in jail, according to the Miami-based human rights group Cubalex.
No defense witnesses
The court said Perez Fonseca was guilty of contempt, public disorder and instigation to commit a crime.
The sentence, dated October 6, was seen by AFP after Perez Fonseca’s family was notified this week.
Three judges at the court heard from a sole witness, Jorge Luis Garcia Montero, a policeman in San Jose de las Lajas. Two people who wanted to testify for the defense, a relative and a friend of Fonseca’s, were barred as being partial.
The police officer stated that Perez Fonseca incited other people to throw rocks and bottles on the day of the protests. He said the defendant threw a rock that hit him in the wrist and another that struck a police car, according to the sentencing document.
Perez Fonseca, a father of two, was arrested at his mother’s home on July 16.
The sentence “is excessive and violates all guarantees of due process,” said Laritza Diversent, head of Cubalex.
She said the jail term, the longest handed out against anyone for taking part in the July protests, seemed intended to scare people into refraining from future demonstrations.
Another protest rally has been called for November 15. The government has banned it and warned people of criminal consequences if they take part.
Cuba’s government says the July protests were part of a U.S.-backed strategy to topple the regime.
And, with the new protest date looming, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter that the United States wants impunity for the “operators” who tried to destabilize the communist state.
“When the US government speaks, we are hearing from the very government that funds and organizes the destabilizing scheme,” Diaz-Canel said on Twitter. “Enough threats.”
Perez Fonseca’s mother, Liset Fonseca, said she thinks the real reason for her son’s long prison term is that at the protest he tore up a picture of communist icon Fidel Castro and challenged Garcia Montero, the police officer, as he arrested another man.
“They had to do something to make an example of him,” she said.