Imprisoned journalists continue hunger strike

New York, October 29, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the health of two imprisoned Cuban journalists who began a hunger strike on October 18 to protest the mistreatment of an imprisoned colleague.

Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández and Adolfo Fernández Saínz, who are jailed at the Holguín Provincial Prison in eastern Cuba, have joined four jailed dissidents in a hunger strike that began on October 18, according to Maydelín Guerra Àlvarez, Mayo Hernández’s wife.

The journalists and dissidents are together protesting the treatment of journalist Iván Hernández Carrillo, who was placed in a punishment cell after complaining about feeling sick.

Guerra Àlvarez first heard about the hunger strike on October 19 but could not travel to Holguín until October 27. She was not permitted to see her husband, but a prison official confirmed that Mayo Hernández had begun a hunger strike. The official refused to give any more information about the other strikers.

Mayo Hernández, Fernández Saínz, and Hernández Carrillo were sentenced to 20, 15, and 25 years, respectively, 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.

This is the third hunger strike by imprisoned Cuban journalists. On August 15, Mayo Hernández went on a hunger strike to demand better food and adequate medical attention. Fernández Saínz and Hernández Carrillo, together with other opposition activists, later joined the hunger strike, which ended on August 28. Three days later, journalists Manuel Vázquez Portal and Normando Hernández González, who were jailed in Boniato Prison, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, joined other jailed dissidents in a hunger strike that lasted one week. In retaliation, Vázquez Portal was subsequently transferred to Aguadores Prison, also in Santiago de Cuba, while Hernández González was sent to a prison in the western province of Pinar del Río.

The imprisoned journalists, who are being held in maximum-security facilities and are handcuffed any time they leave their cells, have denounced unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate medical attention, solitary confinement, and lack of access to the press and television. They have also complained about receiving foul-smelling and rotten food.

Mayo Hernández, Fernández Saínz, Hernández Carrillo, Vázquez Portal, and Hernández González are among a group of 28 independent Cuban journalists who were detained in a massive government crackdown in March. Their one-day summary trials were held in early April behind closed doors. On April 7, courts across the island announced prison sentences for the journalists ranging from 14 to 27 years. They remained imprisoned in jails administered by the State Security Department until April 24, when most were sent to prisons located hundreds of miles from their homes.

In June, the People’s Supreme Tribunal, Cuba’s highest court, dismissed the appeals for annulment (recursos de casación) filed in April by the journalists and upheld their convictions.