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Cuba's Maseda Gutiérrez balks at conditions for freedom

New York, February 11, 2011--The Catholic Church in Havana announced today that jailed Cuban journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, a CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, at left, would be released after nearly eight years behind bars. But news reports, including one citing the journalist's wife, said Maseda Gutiérrez has balked at conditions placed on his release and at the continued detention of other political dissidents.

In a brief notice posted on its website, the church said Maseda Gutiérrez and dissident Eduardo Díaz Fleitas would be released as part of a negotiated agreement with the Castro government to free all political prisoners still jailed from the 2003 crackdown on dissent known as the Black Spring. News reports said that the two would be released under a form of parole known as an "extrajudicial license."

Laura Pollán, the journalist's wife, told Europa Press that Maseda Gutiérrez objects to parole and has sought a pardon instead. Parole conditions could be used to harass or re-arrest a detainee. The ANSA news agency reported that Maseda is also seeking the release of three other political prisoners in failing health.

Maseda Gutiérrez, 67, has been serving a 20-year sentence following his arrest during massive crackdown on dissidents and the independent press in March 2003. In a closed-door summary trial he was charged under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Maseda Gutiérrez, a founding member of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was awarded CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2008. Pollán has said her husband suffered from high blood pressure and skin ailments.

On July 7, 2010, the Catholic Church brokered an agreement with Cuban authorities to release the remaining 52 Black Spring detainees "within three to four months," the church said in a statement issued that day. Spanish government officials also participated in the talks. All 17 of the reporters released so far were immediately flown to Spain. (One has relocated to Chile and two have relocated to the U.S.)

Maseda Gutiérrez is one of four journalists imprisoned in Cuba. He along with Pedro Argüelles Morán and Iván Hernández Carrillo are among the nine remaining detainees from the 2003 crackdown who expressed their desire to stay in Cuba upon release, according to the reporters' families. The fourth journalist, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, was imprisoned in April 2009.

In a letter to Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on Wednesday, CPJ called for Spain's government to push Cuban authorities to fulfill their promise to free all journalists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown. According to news reports, imprisoned journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, initiated a hunger strike last week to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners.

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