Jailed journalist charged with distributing “enemy propaganda”

New York, May 23, 2001 — After a postponement, the trial of a jailed Cuban journalist is now scheduled to begin on Friday, May 25.

José Orlando González Bridón, a Cuban journalist and labor activist, has been jailed since December 15, 2000. While the nature of the charges against González Bridón was initially unclear, CPJ has recently determined that he is being prosecuted for his journalistic work. He is one of two journalists currently jailed for their work in Cuba.

Since late December, González Bridón has been confined in Combinado del Este, a prison east of Havana. In late February, he was transferred to a punishment cell for several days after staging a brief hunger strike. Local sources report that he suffers from high blood pressure and has lost considerable weight while in prison.

The government prosecutor has charged González Bridón with distributing “enemy propaganda,” and has requested a seven-year prison sentence.

“Once again, Cuban authorities have shown contempt for the most elementary principles of press freedom,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “José Orlando González Bridón is in jail today for doing nothing more than his professional duty. He should be released at once, and the charges against him should be dropped.”

Today, Cuba is the only country in the Americas where journalists are in jail because of their work.

Since October 1999, González Bridón has been writing articles for the Miami-based Cuba Free Press Web site. An electronics engineer by trade, he also serves as the secretary general of the Confederation of Cuban Democratic Workers (CTDC), an illegal trade union.

In the case report, González Bridón is accused of joining counter-revolutionary groups, meeting with antisocial elements, and giving distorted information to Miami-based radio stations, according to local sources.

The journalist has also been accused of spreading false information regarding the death of a fellow labor activist in a domestic abuse case. An article by González Bridón, posted to the Cuba Free Press site on August 5, 2000, alleged that Joanna González Herrera, CTDC’s national coordinator, had died as a result of police negligence.

The first oral hearings in the trial were scheduled for May 11 at a Municipal People’s Court in Havana, but were cancelled 12 hours before they were set to begin. State Security Department (DSE) authorities told González Bridón’s family that it had been unable to notify witnesses.

Political observers in Cuba, however, believe González Bridón’s trial and that of another dissident were postponed because President Fidel Castro Ruz was touring Asia and the Middle East at the time, and Cuban authorities feared that foreign journalists might bring up the two trials at President Castro’s press conferences overseas. The trial is now scheduled to begin on May 25.

Another Cuban independent journalist, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, remains jailed. Arévalo Padrón, founder of the Línea Sur Press news agency in the central province of Cienfuegos, has been imprisoned since 1997 for showing “lack of respect” for Castro and Cuban State Council member Carlos Lage. The journalist is currently in the labor camp El Diamante, in Cienfuegos, despite being eligible for parole. His health has suffered as a result of his prolonged imprisonment.