Trailblazing blogger Yoani Sanchez said Saturday the Cuban regime has hit any sign of discontent with "repressive fury" and warned that a new penal code seeks to stifle independent journalists.
Sanchez, who lives in Havana, said a flareup of street protests in 2021 jolted Cuba's ruling party and led to strict controls.
"Repressive fury was unleashed. We have more than 1,000 political prisoners," Sanchez said during a panel at the International Book Fair of Guadalajara, a major annual trade and ideas forum.
Sanchez said she worried about the impact of a new penal code approved by Cuba's parliament last May that went into effect last week.
"The most harmed, the main victim (of this code) is independent journalism, information and the free flow of news," she said.
The penal code classifies as crimes a number of activities the state considers subversive or harmful to society. Human rights groups say it will serve to stifle dissent.
The code maintains the death penalty for 23 types of crime, including harming state security, terrorism, international drug trafficking and murder. Other activities also deemed subversive carry lesser sentences.
"Popular protest is criminalized under offenses such as public scandal," said Sanchez, founder of the website 14ymedio.com and winner of Spain's Ortega y Gasset journalism prize in 2008. How the Cuban Communist Party plans to enact the code is not clear, she said.
"Questions arise. Are they going to apply it strictly or is it just to intimidate? Because there were already legal tools to intimidate us," Sanchez said.
She said she believes President Miguel Diaz-Canel's government will use the penal code to delegitimize protests and smother future flareups by ordinary Cubans demanding greater economic and social freedoms.
Many independent journalists have fled Cuba, fearful of being thrown in jail, she said.
"Journalism has become a profession that, in order to practice it, you must make like a hero, take kamikaze positions or act from insanity. (But) what is not sane is to live under a dictatorship and remain silent," she said.