Alerts   |   Cuba

Jailed Cuban journalists to be flown to Spain, reports say

The Ladies in White, wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners, kneel outside a Havana church on Sunday. (AP/Javier Galeano)

New York, July 12, 2010—Imprisoned Cuban journalists are expected to be among a group of political prisoners to be released tonight and put on a flight to Spain, where they are due to arrive on Tuesday morning, according to international press reports and CPJ interviews. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes news of their scheduled release and urged Cuban authorities today to free all journalists who remain in jail.

Statements issued by the Catholic Church in Cuba, which has been negotiating for the release of the prisoners, have identified 20 political detainees who are to be released imminently. The statement identified the following 10 journalists as among those to be released: Normando Hernández González, Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, Omar Ruíz Hernández, Mijail Bárzaga Lugo, Ricardo González Alfonso, Alfredo Pulido López, José Ubaldo Izquierdo, Léster Luis González Pentón, Pablo Pacheco Avila, and José Luis García Paneque.

Details of the planned releases have been fragmentary. The Cuban government and the official Cuban press have not disclosed any information on the releases or their timing.

News reports indicated that not all of the 20 detainees would be on tonight’s flight. The Spanish Foreign Ministry, which has also been in talks with Cuba over the release of the detainees, said that a group of seven political prisoners will be flown to Spain with their families late tonight, arriving in Madrid between 1 and 2 p.m. local time, The Associated Press reported.

Over all, the church said in statement last week, the government of Raúl Castro has agreed to release a total of 52 political prisoners, with subsequent releases coming over a three- to four-month period. CPJ research has identified 21 journalists in prison over all for their independent reporting and commentary. All but one of the journalists were detained in March 2003, in the massive government crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism that came to be known as the Black Spring.

“Over the last seven years we have documented the terrible hardships that our colleagues have endured in jail,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We will be greatly relieved to see their suffering end, but we will not rest until all are freed.”

In preparation for the releases, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the Havana Archdiocese, contacted a number of jailed journalists last week to ask whether they would be willing to move to Spain, Cuban journalist Miriam Leiva told CPJ. This weekend, some of the families of journalists to be freed were moved to a government facility on the outskirts of the capital where they were to be housed until their departure, according to Álida Viso, wife of the jailed reporter Ricardo González Alfonso.

Below are CPJ capsule reports on the 10 journalists identified by the church as being scheduled for release. The capsule reports are from CPJ’s annual census of jailed journalists, conducted in December 2009.

 

Normando Hernández González, Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Hernández González was arrested in March 2003 as part of the massive crackdown on Cuba’s dissidents and independent press. The director of the news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey was sentenced the following month to 25 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code.

Hernández González was held in an isolation cell at the maximum-security Kilo 7 Prison in his home province of Camagüey for much of the year, his mother, Blanca González, told CPJ. He spent all but two hours a week alone, and received family visits only once every 45 days, she said. The journalist was diagnosed with intestinal ailments, and has suffered from pneumonia and knee problems so severe that even standing was difficult, his mother said. In November, doctors also diagnosed Hernández González with several cardiovascular ailments.

Hernández González was moved to the hospital at Combinado del Este Prison in late October, said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a formerly jailed journalist. His wife, Yaraí Reyes Marín, told CPJ that she requested medical parole for her husband in July 2006, but Cuban authorities did not respond.


Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, freelance

Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Gálvez Rodríguez worked for government media for 24 years. But in March 2003, as he was working as a freelance reporter in Havana, state security agents arrested him as part of the massive crackdown. He was summarily tried that April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy and given a 14-year prison sentence. The People’s Supreme Tribunal, Cuba’s highest court, upheld the decision a month later.

In 2009, Gálvez Rodríguez, 65, was being held in solitary confinement at Havana’s Combinado del Este Prison, his partner, Irene Viera Silloy, told CPJ. She said the journalist was allowed one family visit every two months. Gálvez Rodríguez suffered from high cholesterol, hypertension, and respiratory problems, according to CPJ research. Viera Silloy said he was also diagnosed with pneumonia.

Gálvez Rodríguez continued to write from prison, Viera Silloy told CPJ. She said prison authorities briefly revoked the journalist’s phone privileges in September after he refused to wear a prison uniform.

 

Omar Ruiz Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Ruiz Hernández, a reporter for the Havana-based independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro in the province of Villa Clara, was arrested on March 19, 2003, during the massive crackdown on the island’s dissidents and independent press. He was sentenced in April to 18 years in prison for acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code.

The reporter, 62, was being held in Nieves Morejón Prison in the central province of Sancti Spíritus, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from his home, his wife, Bárbara Maritza Rojo Arias, told CPJ. He shared quarters with 11 prisoners in a small barracks, she said. The quarters, which he was rarely permitted to leave, had no ventilation and poor lighting. Rojo Arias said other living conditions—including his meals—improved at the prison over the course of 2009. He was allowed a family visit of two hours every two months, his wife told CPJ.

Ruiz Hernández suffered from depression and loss of eyesight. He was also diagnosed with high blood pressure, circulatory problems, and chronic gastrointestinal ailments. Rojo Arias told CPJ that her husband was being treated by prison doctors and that she was allowed to provide him with additional medication.


Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo, Agencia Noticiosa Cubana

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Barzaga Lugo, a reporter for the independent news agency Agencia Noticiosa Cubana, was arrested in March 2003 and accused the following month of violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy. Cuban authorities handed him a 15-year prison sentence.

Barzaga Lugo was being held at 1580 Prison in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. She said the reporter suffered from skin ailments made acute by prison conditions; he did not receive medical treatment for the problem.


Ricardo González Alfonso, freelance

Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

González Alfonso, a poet and screenwriter, began reporting for Cuba’s independent press in 1995. He founded the award-winning newsmagazine De Cuba and a Havana-based association of journalists, and then worked as a freelance reporter and Cuba correspondent for the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. He was taken into custody on March 18, 2003. In April, the Havana Provincial Tribunal found him guilty of violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. That June, the People’s Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction.

González Alfonso, 59, was being held at Havana’s Combinado del Este Prison, a two-hour car ride from his family home in the capital, his sister, Graciela González-Degard, told CPJ. The reporter’s small, windowless cell, she said, was hot and humid, and the prison food was poor. As punishment for his refusal to wear a prison uniform, officials denied him religious assistance, barred his family from bringing him clean clothes, and cut family visitation to once every two months.

González-Degard, who lives in New York but visited her brother in August, told CPJ that he was in good health and spirits, though he suffered from hypertension, arthritis, severe allergies to humidity and dust, chronic bronchitis, and several digestive and circulatory problems. During her three-week visit to Havana, she was followed and harassed by state security agents, she said. She also told CPJ that González Alfonso’s two teenage sons had lost employment opportunities as a result of his imprisonment.


Alfredo Pulido López, El Mayor

Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Cuban authorities arrested Pulido López, director of the independent news agency El Mayor in Camagüey, in March 2003. A month later, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code, accused of acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”

In 2009, the journalist was being held at Kilo 7 Prison in his home province along with more than 100 hardened criminals, his wife, Rebecca Rodríguez Souto, told CPJ. The cell’s ventilation was poor, and he shared the restroom facilities with the other inmates, she said. She told CPJ that she was able to visit him once a month and take food and medicine to him.

Pulido López, 49, suffered from chronic bronchitis, gastritis, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. In 2009, his respiratory ailments worsened significantly from the high humidity and poor ventilation, his wife said. She told CPJ that her husband was receiving medical treatment for his respiratory condition only.

 

José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Izquierdo Hernández, a reporter in western Havana for the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was sentenced in April 2003 to 16 years in prison for acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” under Article 91 of the penal code. Following an appeal the next month, the People’s Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction. In 2009, he was being held at the Guanajay Prison in his home province.

Izquierdo Hernández was diagnosed with severe depression, digestive ailments, circulatory problems, emphysema, and asthma, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, wife of fellow imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez.

 

Léster Luis González Pentón, freelance

Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A court in the central province of Villa Clara sentenced independent freelance reporter González Pentón in April 2003 to 20 years in prison under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”

The youngest of the imprisoned Cuban journalists, González Pentón, 32, was being held in 2009 at La Pendiente Prison in the northern city of Santa Clara, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. González Pentón suffered from stomach problems, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. He was allowed occasional visits to his home for good behavior, she said.

 

Pablo Pacheco Ávila, Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

On March 19, 2003, state security agents raided the home of Pacheco Ávila, a reporter for the local independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes, in central Ciego de Ávila. He was convicted in April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s Independence and Economy for committing acts “aiming at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system,” and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Pacheco Ávila, 39, was being held at Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife, Oleyvis García Echemendía, told CPJ. She said her husband was in generally good health despite having been diagnosed last year with high blood pressure, acute gastritis, and kidney problems. He was housed in a barracks with at least 30 other prisoners.

On March 20, the sixth anniversary of Pacheco Ávila’s arrest, prison authorities granted him a 24-hour home furlough for good behavior. In an interview with U.S.-based Radio Martí, Pacheco Ávila said that while at home, he was able to see his wife and 10-year-old son, and speak by phone with other jailed reporters and family members in other parts of Cuba and abroad.

 

José Luis García Paneque, Libertad

Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A physician by profession, García Paneque, 43, joined the independent news agency Libertad in 1998 after being fired from his job at a hospital in eastern Las Tunas because of his political views. In April 2003, a Cuban court sentenced him to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code.

García Paneque was being held at Las Mangas Prison in Granma province, according to his wife, Yamilé Llánez Labrada. Although general prison conditions improved in 2009, she said, the reporter still shared a small cell with several other inmates and complained of difficulty sleeping. García Paneque’s parents visited him every 45 days, his wife told CPJ; she and her children, who moved to Texas in 2007, talked to him on the phone monthly.

García Paneque’s health has significantly deteriorated in prison. He has been diagnosed with a kidney tumor, internal bleeding, chronic malnutrition, and pneumonia. Llánez Labrada told CPJ that her husband continued to have digestive problems and suffered from malnutrition.

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