CPJ urges acting president of Cuba to immediately release all jailed journalists

March 14, 2007

His Excellency Raúl Castro Ruz
First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers
Republic of Cuba
C/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY 10016-2606

Via facsimile: 212-779-1697

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is asking you, as acting president of Cuba, to immediately release all reporters, writers, and editors imprisoned in your country. With 24 independent journalists behind bars today, Cuba continues to be one of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, second only to China.

Of the 24 reporters currently in jail in Cuban prisons, 22 have been incarcerated since the government's massive crackdown on political dissidence four years ago this week.

In March 2003, while the world's attention was focused on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 29 independent journalists were detained as part of a wider crackdown on the opposition. Two weeks later, the reporters were tried summarily behind closed doors and sentenced to terms ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison.

The Cuban government has labeled these journalists "mercenaries" who acted against the interests of the state. This is an arbitrary and vague charge unsupported by any evidence. In fact, a CPJ analysis of trial documents further indicates that the journalists were prosecuted for engaging in professional activities protected by international law.

Seven journalists have since been released on medical parole. According to CPJ research, the 22 who remain in jail have lived their four-year imprisonment under extremely difficult circumstances. They suffer from continuous harassment, humiliating prison conditions, and psychological pressures.

Journalists who were ill before being jailed have seen their health worsen in prison, while others who were in good health have developed illnesses. Some have additionally developed alarming mental health problems. Various journalists have started hunger strikes to protest poor conditions. In retaliation, prison authorities have transferred them, limited outside contact, and withheld information about their health.

Some remain far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. Journalists and family members have cited unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate medical care, and an unhealthy, meager diet. Several are in cells with common criminals; others are in isolation.

Many of the journalists are allowed family visits only once every three months and marital visits only once every four months. Relatives are harassed for talking to the foreign press and for protesting the journalists' incarceration.

Moreover, CPJ is seriously concerned about the imprisonment of two other journalists in reprisal for their work during this past year. Armando Betancourt Reina, a Camagüey-based reporter for Nueva Prensa Cubana, has been imprisoned since May, and has yet to be charged. He was arrested while covering the evictions of dozens of families from their homes. In November, Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez was sentenced to two years of home confinement on charges of "social dangerousness," and forbidden from practicing independent journalism. He had been covering an outbreak of dengue fever.

Since President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to you on July 31, CPJ has documented cases of constant harassment, and detentions of independent journalists who are still trying to report news that the official press ignores. Furthermore, foreign journalists who are covering a story of worldwide importance have been denied entry into Cuba. Three weeks ago, your government announced its decision not to renew the visas of three Havana-based correspondents. The decision, which comes in clear reprisal for their independent reporting, could have a chilling effect on the foreign media's ability to cover Cuba at this crucial time.

The imprisonment of journalists in reprisal for their independent reporting violates international law, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees everyone "the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

We urge you to release all of the detained journalists immediately and unconditionally, and we call on the Cuban government to respect international guarantees for free expression and to stop persecuting the independent press.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director
March 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET |

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