March 17, 2009
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
Berlaymont 10 /165
1049 Brussels, Belgium
Via e-mail: Louis.Michel@ec.europa.eu
Dear Mr. Michel,
Your planned trip to Havana this
week coincides with the sixth anniversary of Cuba's massive
crackdown on independent journalists and dissidents. The Committee to
Protect Journalists calls on you to urge Raúl Castro's government to release
the 21 journalists still jailed in Cuban prisons and extend the internationally
guaranteed right of free expression to all Cubans. We also ask you to assess
the Cuban government's compliance with human rights conditions that the
European Union imposed in 2008 after lifting diplomatic sanctions.
According to reports in the international and Cuban press,
you will be visiting Havana on March 18 and 19
to attend a conference on renewed cooperation projects between Cuba
and the European Union. During your trip, you are expected to meet with Cuban
officials, including newly appointed Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.
On March 18, 19, and 20, 2003, Cuban authorities orchestrated
the arrest of 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists. The accused were tried in
summary, closed-door hearings and sentenced to up to 24 years in prison.
Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience, and the EU
responded by imposing sanctions on Cuba, including a ban on high-ranking
official visits by Cuban authorities to EU countries.
During the June 2008 meeting of the Council of the European
Union in Brussels, the EU agreed to suspend the
2003 sanctions provided that Cuba
improve its human rights record. The Cuban government should have
unconditionally released all political prisoners, facilitated access of
international humanitarian organizations to Cuban prisons, ratified and
implemented the international covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and
granted freedom of expression and information, including through the Internet.
CPJ sent you a letter
on June 25, 2008, urging the EU to hold Cuba accountable for press abuses.
Over the past six years, Cuba has freed a small number of
journalists and dissidents in exchange for international political concessions,
CPJ research has found. However, 20 reporters and editors,
along with another jailed since 2003, remain in prison, making Cuba the world's second-leading jailer of
journalists, after China.
Jailed journalists live in inhumane conditions, their health is deteriorating, and
their families are harassed by local authorities, CPJ research shows.
To date, no international humanitarian organizations have
visited any of the imprisoned Cuban journalists. Nor has the Cuban government
ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which
provides "the right to freedom of expression," or the International Covenant on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, both signed
in February 2008 by then-Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. In our annual
report, Attacks on
the Press in 2008, CPJ noted
extensive restrictions on Internet access in Cuba; only government officials and
people with close links to the Communist Party have personal Web access. In a
country where the government has complete control of the media, independent
journalists working for foreign-based Internet news sites continue to be
threatened and harassed by Cuba's
In 2008, the EU announced that its relations with Cuba would be
renewed annually after an assessment of the progress and commitment made by the
Cuban government on issues that included human rights. We urge you to take this
opportunity to address these issues with Cuban leaders, ensure that the EU
conditions for the improvement of human rights will be met, and call on the
government to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists unjustly
imprisoned for exercising their basic human right to freedom of expression.