New York, November 30, 2004—Cuban writer Raúl Rivero was released from a Havana prison today, the second imprisoned journalist to be granted medical parole in as many days. Twenty-five other journalists swept up in a March 2003 government crackdown on the independent press remain behind bars.
Rivero’s discharge and the release of journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe on Monday come just as the Cuban government resumes formal diplomatic contacts with Spain, a possible precursor to normalizing relations with the European Union. A number of imprisoned dissidents have also been released.
“We welcome Rivero’s release, but it is simply not enough. The Cuban government continues to imprison more than two dozen journalists without basis,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We demand that all of the imprisoned journalists be freed immediately and unconditionally, and we urge the international community to pay close attention to the Cuban government’s actions.”
Cuba remains one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. CPJ and other organizations have waged an intensive international lobbying effort to free them.
A well-known poet and writer, Rivero was director of the Cuba Press independent news agency. He was serving a 20-year prison sentence for “acting against the independence or the territorial integrity of the State.” Rivero, who was awarded UNESCO’s prestigious Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize this year, had been moved November 26 from a prison in central Ciego de Ávila province to the hospital in Combinado del Este prison.
Under the Cuban Penal Code, the courts or the Ministry of the Interior have discretion to grant parole (licencia extrapenal) for any period of time “deemed necessary.” Rivero’s release on a medical parole effectively means that the government could send him back to jail at any time if it chooses.
Several other journalists who were recently transferred to prison hospitals in Havana were still in custody today. The transfers, coupled with Cuba’s recent diplomatic efforts, had fueled speculation that additional releases were possible.
Edel José García remained jailed at Combinado del Este in Havana, according to his family. Pablo Pacheco Ávila was sent back from Havana to the Morón prison in Ciego de Ávila, his native province, according to his wife, Oleivys García Echemendía. And Pedro Argüelles Morán apparently remains at Combinado del Este, where he was taken for a medical checkup on November 26, his wife, Yolanda Vera Nerey, told CPJ.
José Ubaldo Izquierdo and Omar Ruiz Hernández, who were also taken to Havana last week, were returned to Guanajay prison and Canaleta prison, respectively. Jorge Olivera Castillo, taken to Combinado del Este last week, apparently remains there.