Independent press under siege

New York, August 7, 2002—In a fresh series of actions against Cuba’s independent press corps, Cuban state security agents have harassed, detained, and threatened several independent journalists during the last 10 days.

Journalist detained
Ángel Pablo Polanco, 60, director of the independent news agency Noticuba, was detained on July 30. According to Polanco’s wife, at around 11:30 a.m. that morning, seven or eight plainclothes state security agents arrived at the journalist’s apartment, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre.

The security agents, who said they were looking for “illegal items,” thoroughly searched the apartment until 8:30 p.m., confiscating several electronic appliances, including a fax machine and a cordless phone, documents, books, money, and Polanco’s passport.

Polanco, who is handicapped and can barely walk, was arrested at around 9 p.m. The security agents did not have a warrant but demanded that Polanco leave with them. When he refused, the officers lifted him, carried him away, and forced him into a car.

The journalist, who was released on August 3, told the independent journalists’ association Sociedad de Periodistas Manuel Márquez Sterling that the authorities charged him with instigating others to commit the crimes of “contempt for authority” and “insulting the nation’s symbols.”

Polanco is now required to report twice a month to a local police station while police continue an investigation. His confiscated items have not been returned to him.

In the past, Polanco has filed news reports for the Miami-based Web sites Nueva Prensa Cubana and Cubanet. More recently, his reports have been broadcast back to Cuba over Miami-based, U.S.-government-financed Radio Martí.

Journalist threatened
On the morning of July 31, Jesús Álvarez Castillo, a reporter for the independent press agency CubaPress, was summoned to the local headquarters of the Department of Technical Investigations (DTI), the criminal police, in the central town of Ciego de Ávila. There, the journalist was interrogated for four hours and pressured to testify about a March 4 protest at a local hospital.

On March 4, Álvarez Castillo had been trying to cover opposition protests in Ciego de Ávila when police officers stopped him and applied a chokehold to him. On the way to the police station, Álvarez Castillo fainted and was taken to a hospital, where X-rays revealed he had a sprained neck.

After learning of the attack, activists Léster Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera joined other opposition members inside the hospital to protest the assault. The demonstrators shouted anti-government slogans. Police then beat them and took them to the headquarters.

Álvarez Castillo was discharged from the hospital that same afternoon. Téllez Castro and Brizuela Yera have been imprisoned without charges since March 4.

When Álvarez Castillo was summoned on July 31, officers asked him to testify about the melee between the protestors and the police. When he told the agents that he had not witnessed the incident, they threatened to prosecute him for perjury.

Several journalists arrested
In anticipation of protests that political opponents of President Fidel Castro Ruz had called for August 5, Cuban authorities harassed and intimidated several journalists to keep them from covering the demonstrations. In the eastern province of Holguín, police detained journalist Juan Carlos Garcell for four hours and confiscated his notes. Journalists María Elena Alpízar and Isabel Rey, who live in the central province of Villa Clara, were ordered to stay at home on August 5. And in the western Isla de la Juventud Province—formerly Isla de Pinos—police detained a fourth journalist, Carlos Cerpa Maceira, for five hours