January 18, 2001
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) welcomes yesterday’s release of independent journalist Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, who was imprisoned for two years because of his work, in clear violation of international law. We urge Your Excellency to release the two other journalists who remain behind bars, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón and Manuel Antonio González Castellanos.
Yesterday, prison authorities summoned Díaz Hernández’s parents to Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila Province. Without explanation, they released Díaz Hernández into their care. Díaz Hernández had served exactly two years of his four-year sentence; a document presented to him on his release states that the rest of his sentence has been suspended.
While we are relieved that our colleague Díaz Hernández has been released from prison, we remain outraged that he was jailed in the first place. The fact that he was convicted under Article 72 of the Cuban penal codes means that can be jailed again if he returns to work as an independent journalist. Article 72 states, “Any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality.”
Díaz Hernández, who is the executive director of the independent news service Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes (CAPI), was subjected to a sham trial and convicted of “dangerousness,” a crime that is unknown outside Cuba. He was held in degrading conditions and denied even the limited rights to which he was entitled under Cuban law.
On January 18, 1999, Revolutionary National Police officers arrested Díaz Hernández at his home in the town of Morón, in the central province of Ciego de Ávila. The Morón Municipal Court convicted him of “dangerousness” after a one-day trial. In protest, he immediately began a hunger strike, refusing even to drink water.
After a summary session on January 22, 1999, the Provincial Court in Ciego de Ávila confirmed Díaz Hernández’s sentence. In a clear violation of due process, his own attorney was not permitted to attend the hearing (the journalist was represented by a state-appointed lawyer). Díaz Hernández ended his hunger strike on January 28 and began drinking liquids.
In July 1999, Díaz Hernández started another hunger strike, this one lasting 17 days. In September, after spending eight months in solitary confinement, the journalist was transferred to a section of the prison where other inmates convicted of “dangerousness” were also held.
CPJ’s local sources reported that on November 11, 1999, just before the Ninth Ibero-American Summit held in Havana, Díaz Hernández went on a third hunger strike in support of a general amnesty for political prisoners in Cuba. He was again placed in solitary confinement, even though his sentence called for correctional work in a labor camp.
On November 23, 1999, CPJ honored Díaz Hernández with an International Press Freedom Award. Guests at the awards ceremony in New York City signed 312 postcards urging Your Excellency to release the journalist immediately. The postcards were delivered via FedEx to the Cuba Interests Section in Washington D.C. on February 4, 2000.
In July 2000, Díaz Hernández’s colleagues reported that the journalist was suffering from hepatitis and was not receiving proper medical treatment. The journalist’s condition was diagnosed only after his family smuggled a urine sample out of the prison. The same month, prison guards confiscated Díaz Hernández’s books, and forbade his relatives from bringing him any more.
We are pleased that after two years in prison, Díaz Hernández is now free, and is enjoying time with his friends and family. We are hopeful that he will now be able to practice his profession without government interference, although we have no illusions about the measures your government will take to suppress independent journalism.
In fact, we remain deeply concerned about two of our colleagues who remain in prison:
- Bernardo Rogelio Arévalo Padrón has been in jail since 1997. The founder of the Línea Sur Press news agency in the province of Cienfuegos, Arévalo Padrón continues to be held despite being eligible for parole. His health has suffered as a result of his prolonged imprisonment.
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 showing “lack of respect” for President Fidel Castro and for Cuban State Council member Carlos Lage. The charges stemmed from a series of interviews Arévalo Padrón gave in late 1997 to Miami-based radio stations. In the interviews, the journalist alleged that, while Cuban farmers went hungry, helicopters were being used to transport fresh meat from the countryside to the dinner tables of Your Excellency, Lage, and other Communist Party officials in Havana.
On November 18, 1997, State Security officers detained Arévalo Padrón and sent him to jail. The journalist served the early part of his sentence in the maximum-security Ariza Prison in Cienfuegos, where he shared a filthy cell with common criminals. On April 11, 1998, State Security officers beat up Arévalo Padrón after accusing him of writing anti-government posters in prison. He was subsequently placed in solitary confinement. Later, another prisoner was identified as having written the posters.
While at Ariza, Arévalo Padrón faced constant harassment, according to local colleagues. Fellow inmates who managed to make contact with him were transferred or subjected to reprisals. In addition, Arévalo Padrón suffered bouts of bronchitis and was reportedly treated twice for high blood pressure in the prison infirmary. On January 8, the journalist was transferred to Labor Camp No. 20, in the municipality of Abreu, Cienfuegos, where he served four months.
Since April 6, 2000, the journalist has been held in the overcrowded and unsanitary San Marcos labor camp, in the municipality of Lajas, Cienfuegos, where he works chopping weeds with a machete in sugar cane fields. He is being fed an extremely poor diet of rice and watered-down broth. According to the independent news agency CubaPress, prison authorities keep a constant watch on Arévalo Padrón, censor his incoming and outgoing mail, and threaten to send him to a maximum-security prison if he does not meet his production quota.
Because of his strenuous work at several labor camps, Arévalo Padrón has developed lower back pain (sacrolumbagia) and coronary blockage. After ignoring Arévalo Padrón’s pain for weeks, in September of this year prison authorities allowed him to undergo a medical examination, CubaPress reported. A doctor determined that Arévalo Padrón’s poor health disqualifies him from physical work, and that he should permanently wear an orthopedic brace.
In mid-October, prison authorities informed Arévalo Padrón that his parole had been approved. Yet Arévalo Padrón continues to be held in the San Marcos labor camp, a clear violation of Cuban law.
- Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, the correspondent for the independent news agency CubaPress in the eastern province of Holguín, has been in jail since 1998. He has been denied medical assistance and the legal benefits to which he is entitled, such as parole.
González Castellanos was arrested on October 1, 1998, for making critical statements about Your Excellency to state security agents who had stopped and insulted him as he was walking home from a visit with a friend. After awaiting trial in the Holguín Provisional Prison for seven months, he was convicted by the San Germán Municipal Court, in Holguín Province, on May 6, 1999. He crime was “disrespect,” and he was sentenced to two years and seven months’ imprisonment.
While the charges against González Castellanos did not arise directly from his journalistic work, local journalists suspect that González Castellanos was deliberately provoked by State Security agents in retaliation for his reporting on the activities of political dissidents.
On June 30, 1999, González Castellanos was transferred to Holguín’s maximum-security prison, “Cuba Sí,” where guards routinely harassed him. When he complained about the poor hygienic conditions, the guards threatened to suspend his visiting rights. In late 1999, local independent journalists reported that state security officers promised privileges to other inmates if they would harass González Castellanos and pass on information about him to the authorities.
On March 3, 2000, González Castellanos was transferred back to Holguín Provisional Prison. On June 26, he was confined in a punishment cell for 10 days, after being punched in the head by the prison’s reeducation officer and a guard for protesting the confiscation of his handwritten notes. Upon release from the punishment cell, González Castellanos was placed in a labor unit. He had a severe cold for two months and lost considerable weight, but was denied proper medical attention. The journalist’s condition improved only after his family managed to provide him with medication.
In mid-November, 2000, González Castellanos, who is also eligible for parole, was told that he was one of 60 prisoners being transferred to a labor camp, where conditions were less harsh. But when the day of the transfer arrived, González Castellanos was told that he would be staying at the Holguín Provisional Prison.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ believes 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 González Castellanos and Arévalo Padrón are immediately released from prison, and that their unjust convictions are reversed.
Ann K. Cooper