Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, a Cuban Biologist was arrested and sentenced for referring to a Forest Ranger as a Rural Guard. He was charged with “disrespecting a government official.” It has been reported that his prosecution stems from his conflict with authorities over his efforts to expose violations of environmental regulations in the Vinales region. He was supposedly expelled from the Center of Marine Research and the Faculty of Biology at the University of Havana due to his complaints about the hunting of endangered turtles. CCS has written the President of Cuba requesting the case be investigated and assure that Dr. Urquiola be given a fair trial.
May 21, 2018
Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez
President of the Republic of Cuba
Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: cuba_onu@cuban_mission.com (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
The Committee of Concerned Scientists is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world.
We write to express our grave concern about the treatment of Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, a 43-year-old biologist who has been sentenced to a year in prison for “disrespecting” government officials; specifically, for referring to a Forest Ranger as a “rural guard”. We believe he is currently housed in Pinar del Río provincial prison.
Reportedly, his prosecution stems from conflict with authorities over his efforts to expose violations of environmental regulations in the Vinales region. He was expelled from the Center of Marine Research and the Faculty of Biology at the University of Havana allegedly due to his complaints about hunting of endangered turtles.
His current agro-ecological project in the province of Pinar del Río focuses on environmental management and sustainable food production and appears to have been fully supported by all the relevant authorities. Prior to his arrest, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and his family endured frequent harassment from his neighbors, for which no one seems to have been held accountable. His sister, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, believes his prosecution is an attempt to intimidate him into silence and take his farm away.
The law Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was convicted of violating (Article 144 of Cuba’s Penal Code), reportedly after a summary trial with no presumption of innocence, stipulates that it is a crime to, in any manner, abuse or offend “by word or in writing, the dignity or decorum of an authority, a public functionary or their agents or assistants, during the exercise of their functions or because of them.”
This overly broad statute is a fundamental violation of the right to freedom of expression. In 1995, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights wrote that these kinds of vague laws violate the American Convention on Human Rights because they are easily abused by those in power and because they “provide a higher level of protection to public officials than to private citizens.”
As scholars and scientists, we urge you to investigate this, and to take steps to ensure that freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and the right to academic freedom are protected for our colleague Ariel Ruiz Urquiola.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter, and we look forward to receiving your response.
Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists
Jose Ramon Cabañas Rodriguez
Embassy of Cuba
2630 16th Street NW