Reuters journalists attacked by state agents

New York, February 28, 2002—Police and state security agents yesterday attacked Reuters journalists Alfredo Tedeschi and Andrew Cawthorne with batons while they covered an incident in front of the Mexican embassy in Havana.

A group of Cuban citizens used a bus to crash into the gates of the embassy in hopes of seeking asylum, according to international news reports.

Police chased, beat, and detained several onlookers who had congregated outside the embassy. Two Reuters journalists were caught in the fray: Tedeschi, a cameraman, was beaten to the ground by police, and his camera was taken. Cawthorne, Reuters’ Cuba correspondent, was beaten on the arm and back.

Although violent attacks against journalists in Cuba are unusual, Reuters reported that police and state security agents aggressively moved foreign media workers away from the scene, calling them “sons of bitches.” Plainclothes state security agents and police with dogs later cordoned off an area of several blocks around the embassy, banning access to journalists and passersby.

“We condemn this attack on the press and urge the Cuban government to take action against the officials who perpetrated it,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Violence against the media in Cuba has been rare, and we sincerely hope it will not become another hurdle that journalists must face in that country.”

The gate-crash was prompted by rumors that Mexico had offered to grant asylum to all Cubans who wanted to leave the country. As a result, yesterday afternoon hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the embassy to seek information. Mexican chargé d’affaires Andrés Ordóñez later met with foreign journalists and denied that Mexico had changed its immigration policy toward Cuba.