Another imprisoned journalist starts hunger strike

New York, May 21, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has learned that imprisoned Cuban journalist Normando Hernández González, who is jailed at Kilo 5 1/2 Prison in western Pinar del Río Province, has started a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Hernández González, who is serving a 25-year sentence, is one of 29 journalists currently imprisoned in Cuba.

The journalist began his hunger strike on May 7, when prison guards forcibly removed him from the cell where he was in solitary confinement and placed him with the general prison population, his wife Yaraí Reyes told CPJ. Hernández González, who says he is a prisoner of conscience, is protesting his confinement with common criminals. The journalist stopped drinking fluids for a few days but is now taking fluids again.

On May 12, during a family visit, Reyes saw her husband, who looked very thin, haggard, and pale. Before the visit, prison officials met with Reyes and told her she should convince her husband to stop the hunger strike.

In September 2003, Hernández González joined imprisoned journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal and other jailed dissidents at Boniato Prison, located in eastern Santiago de Cuba Province, in a hunger strike that lasted one week. As punishment for his involvement in the strike, Hernández González was sent to Kilo 5 1/2 Prison in Pinar del Río, on the opposite end of the island.

“We renew our demands that the Cuban government release all 29 journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Moreover, imprisoned journalists should not be subjected to degrading treatment.”

Hernández González, the director of the independent news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey, is one of 29 independent Cuban journalists who were imprisoned in April 2003 in a massive government crackdown on the independent media and political opposition.

The imprisoned journalists, who are being held in maximum-security facilities, have denounced their unsanitary prison conditions and inadequate medical care. They have also complained of receiving foul-smelling and rotten food. Although several of them have been transferred to cells with common criminals, others continue in complete isolation.