CPJ condemns treatment of imprisoned journalists

New York, September 2, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the continued imprisonment of more than two dozen Cuban journalists, several of whom have received inadequate medical care or been harassed for protesting their conditions.

The Cuban government arrested 29 journalists in March 2003 in a massive crackdown on the independent media. Accused of being “counterrevolutionaries” at the service of the United States, the journalists were convicted after summary trials behind closed doors. Only two have been released.

Several of the jailed journalists are suffering from deteriorating health.

Jorge Olivera Castillo was taken from a hospital in eastern Guantánamo province to Agüica prison in western Matanzas province, according to his wife, Nancy Alfaya. Olivera, who suffers from several ailments, is being held at the prison’s infirmary, but is receiving no medical treatment, Alfaya told CPJ.

Another, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, has been hospitalized for more than a year and his health continues to decline. His wife, Miriam Leyva, said the family does not have access to his doctors, his medical tests, or treatment records.

Raúl Rivero, who suffers from pulmonary emphysema, has been subjected to harassment by prison officials, according to his wife, Blanca Reyes. After Rivero’s last family visit, on August 19, the prison’s medical services director told Reyes she could no longer deliver medicine to Rivero. Reyes, who was warned by state security officers not to give statements about Rivero’s status, told CPJ that prison officials had suspended his September 11 marital visit after he argued with a security officer.

Fabio Prieto Llorente, a journalist who is jailed at Kilo 8 prison in central Camagüey province, went on a hunger strike August 11 to demand his transfer to a prison closer to his home, according to the independent news agency Decoro. Prieto Llorente, who is from eastern Isla de la Juventud province, subsequently ended his hunger strike and on August 30 was visited by his mother and sister. He has been harassed for protesting his conditions, according to Decoro.

Also in August, journalist Héctor Maseda was transferred to a cell with repeat offenders in La Pendiente prison, according to his wife, Laura Pollán. Maseda is concerned that prison authorities may use common prisoners to harass him. Pollán also told CPJ that she and other relatives of imprisoned journalists and opposition activists had formally appealed to Cuban authorities to grant them amnesty, but government officials have not responded to their request.

“The Cuban government continues to ignore international and domestic appeals for the release of the imprisoned journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “As long as these journalists are jailed, in violation of international freedom of expression standards, we will continue to demand their immediate and unconditional release.”

The Cuban government arrested a total of 29 journalists in the March 2003 crackdown, and tried them behind closed doors on April 3 and 4, 2003, as the world’s attention was focused on the war in Iraq.

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 calls for imprisonment of up to 20 years 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.

In June 2004, imprisoned journalist Carmelo Díaz Fernández was granted a medical parole and sent home. At the time he was warned that he would be sent back to prison if he recovered from his illnesses or did not maintain “good behavior”. Also in June, journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal, CPJ’s 2003 International Press Freedom Award winner, was released without explanation. Upon his release, two state security officers suggested that he leave the country.

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. Unlike the general prison population, who receive more frequent visits, most imprisoned journalists are allowed family visits every three months and marital visits every five months.