CPJ concerned about deteriorating health of imprisoned journalists 

New York, July 28, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of imprisoned journalists Julio César Gálvez, Edel José García, and Jorge Olivera Castillo, who are among the 29 journalists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Cuba in 2003.

Gálvez is serving a 15-year prison sentence at La Pendiente Prison in central Villa Clara Province. He suffers from several ailments, including high blood pressure, liver problems, high cholesterol, and urinary problems. These illnesses have appeared or worsened during his imprisonment, according to his wife, Beatriz del Carmen Pedroso. From February 26 to July 9, 2004, Gálvez was hospitalized, and on March 11 a stone was removed from his gallbladder. Pedroso told CPJ she is very worried about her husband’s health, including his increased nervousness, and said she would apply for a medical parole on his behalf.

García is currently serving his 15-year prison sentence at the hospital of Combinado del Este Prison in the capital, Havana, where he has been since February 25, 2004. He is suffering from gastritis and has developed severe claustrophobia and depression, his wife, María Margarita Borges, told CPJ. In addition, García has been blind in one eye since childhood and has limited vision in the other.

Olivera, who has been at the Guantánamo Provincial Hospital in eastern Guantánamo Province since February 26, 2004, is serving an 18-year prison sentence. According to his wife, Nancy Alfaya, Olivera has had intense abdominal pain caused by chronic colitis. In addition, he suffers from unstable blood pressure and other ailments that have worsened while in prison. Alfaya says that her husband never had blood pressure problems before entering prison, and that his general health has worsened since his incarceration.

“The Cuban government jailed these journalists using legislation that flouts internationally recognized freedom of expression standards,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We continue to demand their immediate and unconditional release.”

Gálvez, García, and Olivera were imprisoned in April 2003 in a massive government crackdown on the independent media and political opposition. The arrests of political dissidents and journalists—who were accused of being “counterrevolutionaries” at the service of the United States—began in March 2003.

The journalists’ summary trials were held on April 3 and 4 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 mandates 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, 2003, courts across the island announced prison sentences for the journalists ranging from 14 to 27 years. In June 2003, the People’s Supreme Tribunal, Cuba’s highest court, dismissed the journalists’ appeals for annulment (recursos de casación) and upheld their convictions.

The imprisoned journalists, most of whom are being held in maximum-security facilities, have denounced their unsanitary prison conditions and inadequate medical care. They have also complained of being fed foul-smelling and rotten food. Many journalists have been transferred to cells with common criminals, while others remain in isolation. Unlike the general prison population, who receive more frequent visits, imprisoned journalists are allowed family visits every three months and marital visits every five months.