CPJ alarmed by deteriorating health of journalist

New York, August 11, 2003—CPJ is alarmed by the deteriorating health of imprisoned journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was transferred last week to a military hospital in the capital, Havana.

On Thursday, August 7, Espinosa Chepe became ill and was taken from a hospital in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba to the Finlay Military Hospital in Havana, according to his wife, independent journalist Miriam Leiva. Yesterday, August 10, Leiva visited him for an hour at the hospital. A state security officer told Leiva that officials will send her husband back to jail when they deem it appropriate.

The 62-year-old journalist suffers from several severe medical conditions, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, liver failure, and high blood pressure. Leiva said that Espinosa Chepe also has blood in his stools, anemia, and parasites.

On April 7, Espinosa Chepe was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Article 91 of the Penal Code for acting against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the State” and for violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy.

In April, Espinosa Chepe was moved from Havana to a prison in Guantánamo on the opposite end of the island. Due to his liver conditions—which Leiva says had been under control before his detention and imprisonment—and other ailments that have been exacerbated in jail, the journalist has been in and out of hospitals during the last four months.

In July, he was transferred to Boniato Prison, where, despite his poor health, he spent eight days in solitary confinement.

Prison authorities allow Leiva to see her husband every three months. She has traveled hundreds of miles to see him more often, but prison officials have repeatedly refused to let her visit him. Leiva fears that her husband may die as a result of his imprisonment and has unsuccessfully lobbied Cuban authorities to allow him to serve his prison sentence at home.
Espinosa Chepe is one of 28 independent Cuban journalists who were detained in a massive clampdown on the opposition and the independent press in March. The journalists remained imprisoned in several jails administered by the State Security Department until April 24, when most were sent to jails located hundreds of miles from their homes.

“The horrific treatment of Oscar Espinosa Chepe in jail heightens the injustice that was done to him when he was imprisoned,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “He should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.”