Another imprisoned journalist on hunger strike

New York, December 19, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the health of imprisoned Cuban journalist Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been on a hunger strike for the last 12 days.

González Alfonso, who is jailed at the Kilo 8 Prison in central Camagüey Province, went on a hunger strike on December 8 to demand his transfer to another unit within the prison where he can be with other political prisoners, said his wife, independent journalist Álida Viso Bello. As punishment for the hunger strike, prison officials placed González Alfonso in a small cell with no running water that is lit 24 hours a day. He has been in this cell since December 14.

In November, González Alfonso, who was earlier put in solitary confinement for seven months, was transferred to a cell with common criminals, who have harassed him. The journalist has high-blood pressure, and this month, he had to be taken to a hospital where doctors found two lumps in his throat and recommended their removal. While in the hospital, the journalist’s personal belongings were stolen. According to Viso Bello, González Alfonso was scheduled to return to the hospital today to have the lumps removed.

On Wednesday, December 17, Viso Bello met with her husband for an hour in the presence of a prison official. Viso Bello, who did not expect to be allowed to see her husband, believes that she was able to meet with him because prison officials thought she could convince him to stop his hunger strike.

González Alfonso is the president of the independent journalists’ association Sociedad de Periodistas Manuel Márquez Sterling, founded in May 2001. His house, which served as the offices of the association, was raided on March 18 during a massive government crackdown on the opposition and the independent press.

During the last five months, several imprisoned Cuban journalists have gone on hunger strikes to demand better conditions. After learning about the hunger strikes, other jailed journalists have joined them in solidarity. Because prison authorities have refused to allow outside contact with the strikers or to disclose information about them, their families have been unable to check on their health. As punishment for their involvement in the strikes, the journalists have been dispersed and transferred to other prisons.

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.

Crackdown in March
Twenty-nine independent Cuban journalists were detained in the March crackdown on the independent media and political opposition. Their one-day trials were held in early April behind closed doors. Some journalists were tried under Article 91 of the Penal Code, which imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for those who act against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the State.” Other journalists were prosecuted for violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy, which imposes up to 20 years in prison for anyone who commits acts “aimed at subverting the internal order of the Nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system.”

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.