Police assault journalist

New York, March 14, 2002—An independent Cuban journalist is recuperating at home after suffering a brutal assault by local police earlier this month, CPJ has learned. Two other journalists who protested the attack remain in detention.

Around 11:30 a.m. on March 4, CubaPress correspondent Jesús Álvarez Castillo was covering a demonstration by the human rights organization Fundación Cubana de Derechos Humanos (FCDH) in the city of Ciego de Ávila when police applied a chokehold to the journalist, injuring his neck.

On the way to the police station, Álvarez Castillo fainted. He was taken to a local hospital, where X-rays revealed a sprained neck.

At around one p.m. on March 4, several journalists and FCDH activists gathered at the hospital to protest the attack against Álvarez Castillo. The group included Léster Téllez Castro, director of the independent news agency Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña and organizing secretary of the FCDH, and Carlos Brizuela Yera, a reporter with the independent news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey.

As the protesters shouted anti-government slogans, they were beaten by police, forced into police vehicles, and taken to the local headquarters of the Technical Department of Investigations (DTI), Cuba’s criminal police force. Álvarez Castillo was discharged from the hospital that same evening.

On March 11, the police transferred Brizuela Yera to a detention center in the eastern province of Holguín. Téllez Castro was moved to a facility in the central province of Cienfuegos. Both journalists will likely be charged with “disrespect,” “public disorder in a medical institution,” and “resistance,” according to local sources.

Téllez Castro has started a hunger strike, sources said.

Álvarez Castillo is currently at home recovering from his injuries. He is taking anti-inflammatory medication and is experiencing pain and dizziness, according to CubaPress. Although no charges have been brought against him, he remains under police surveillance.

“Cuban journalists have long faced systematic harassment, criminal prosecution, and jail because of their work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “These recent attacks represent a disturbing escalation in the Cuban government’s ongoing efforts to silence independent journalism in the country.”