July 25, 2000
His Excellency Fidel Castro Ruz
President of Cuba
c/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
VIA FAX: 212-779-1697
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to condemn the continued imprisonment of independent journalists in Cuba, in clear violation of international law. CPJ is also deeply troubled by reports that these unjustly jailed prisoners are being denied medical care and other basic services. We urge Your Excellency to order the immediate release of the following three Cuban journalists:
- Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández. On January 18, 1999, police arrested Díaz Hernández, executive director of the independent news service Cooperative of Independent Journalists of Ciego de Ávila (CAPI), at his home in the town of Morón, Ciego de Ávila Province. The next day, the Morón Municipal Court convicted Díaz Hernández of "dangerousness" and sentenced him to four years in prison.
Díaz Hernández has gone on three hunger strikes to protest his conviction. Today he is being held in solitary confinement, even though his sentence called for correctional work at a labor camp. Díaz Hernández is currently said to suffer from hepatitis, for which prison authorities have denied him adequate treatment.
- Manuel Antonio González Castellanos. On October 1, 1998, State Security agents arrested González Castellanos, a correspondent for the independent news service CubaPress, in the town of San Germán, eastern Holguín Province. According to his relatives, González Castellanos was arrested after he made critical statements about Your Excellency to State Security agents who had stopped and insulted him as he was returning home from a friend's house.
On May 6, 1999, the San Germán Municipal Court convicted González Castellanos of showing "disrespect" for Your Excellency. He was sentenced to serve two years and seven months in prison. On June 30, 1999, González Castellanos was transferred to Holguín's maximum-security prison, Cuba Sí, where guards have routinely harassed him. CPJ's local sources report that he has lost considerable weight. On June 26, 2000, González Castellanos was placed in a punishment cell for 10 days, after being badly beaten in the head by the prison's reeducation officer and a guard.
While the charges against González Castellanos were not directly related to his work, local journalists suspect that the State Security agents deliberately provoked him in retaliation for his coverage of local dissidents.
- Bernardo Arévalo Padrón. On October 31, 1997, the Provincial Chamber of the Court of Aguada de Pasajeros, a town in Cienfuegos, sentenced Arévalo Padrón to six years imprisonment for allegedly showing "disrespect" for Your Excellency and for Cuban State Council member Carlos Lage. His conviction stemmed from a story Arévalo Padrón had published on privileges enjoyed by Cuba's political leaders.
Local independent journalists report that Arévalo faces constant harassment from prison guards. Since May 1999, the journalist has been held in a labor camp, where he subsists on extremely small portions of rice and watered-down broth. He has suffered from bronchitis, and has reportedly been treated twice for high blood pressure.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, we believe that your government's criminalization of independent journalism is a clear violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression including the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Jailing those who exercise this liberty is also a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration, which states, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."
We call on Your Excellency to ensure that Díaz Hernández, González Castellanos, and Arévalo Padrón are immediately released from prison and that their unjust convictions are reversed. Finally, we urge the Cuban government to bring all its laws governing freedom of expression into line with international standards for a free press.
Ann K. Cooper