New York, March 19, 2003— In a harsh crackdown on the political opposition and independent media, Cuban authorities have arrested at least 10 independent journalists and 20 political activists throughout the country. The government has vowed to prosecute the detainees but has not yet specified under what charges.
The arrests, which began on Tuesday, March 18, at around 4:30 p.m. and lasted until this morning, were announced in an evening news program broadcast on state-owned television.
“CPJ condemns the Cuban government’s repression of independent media,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “We call on authorities to allow journalists to work freely, without fear of imprisonment or prosecution.”
Manuel David Orrio, an independent journalist who heads the Federation of Cuban Journalists (FEPEC), told CPJ that, as of this morning, independent journalists Jorge Olivera, Ricardo González Alfonso, José Luis García Paneque, Omar Rodríguez Saludes, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Edel José García, José Ramón Gabriel Castillo, Julio César Gálvez, and Víctor Rolando Arroyo had been arrested by police. Roberto García Cabrejas, a journalist based in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, was placed under house arrest. According to the independent news agency UPECI, the journalists have been taken to the Havana headquarters of the State Security Department, the political police.
At the home of González Alfonso, who is director of the journalists’ association Sociedad de Periodistas Manuel Márquez Sterling, police confiscated a fax machine, printer, and laptop computer that had been used to publish the association’s bimonthly magazine, De Cuba. Officials raided and searched other journalists’ homes, confiscating their books, typewriters, and fax machines.
The Cuban government published a statement in today’s edition of the Cuban Communist Party daily newspaper, Granma, warning that “no one should be led to believe that the acts of treason at the service of a foreign power, which jeopardize the security and the interests of our heroic homeland, will enjoy guaranteed impunity.”
The Cuban government routinely accuses political dissidents and independent journalists of being “counterrevolutionaries” at the service of the United States. In recent weeks, Cuban authorities castigated James Cason, who heads the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and accused him of organizing and financing activities to “destabilize and subvert constitutional order,” a reference to U.S. support for Cuban dissidents.
Despite state repression, independent journalists have gained strength during in recent years. Last week, the FEPEC organized its first workshop on journalistic ethics, which 36 journalists attended. Orrio held the event at Cason’s residence in Havana, he said, to attract attention to government restrictions on the right to assemble freely in public spaces.