A journalist is freed as more than 20 remain jailed

New York, December 7, 2004—The man who headed an independent Havana news agency has been freed after more than 20 months behind bars, becoming the sixth Cuban journalist to be released in recent months. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Cuban officials to immediately release the 23 journalists still jailed after the government’s massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press.

“Dissent shouldn’t be seen as a criminal act,” Jorge Olivera Castillo told reporters after his release on Monday. Olivera also contributed to the magazine De Cuba, a pioneer in independent journalism on the island. De Cuba editor Ricardo González Alfonso, who was also imprisoned in the crackdown, remains behind bars.

An editor for Cuban state television before joining the independent press movement, Olivera was released on medical parole. He is suffering from colon problems.

“We welcome the release of Jorge Olivera Castillo, and hope the others are released soon,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “But conditions for Cuban journalists have not really changed. The journalists released from prison are not free to do their work.”

Some of those who have been freed said they may leave the country. Olivera, who headed the Havana Press news agency, told CPJ that he planned to leave Cuba for the United States on a visa he was granted before his arrest. Journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal, released from prison in June, is also considering exile.

In an interview published on a Spain-based Web site, writer Raúl Rivero said he would consider exile if he unable to work in Cuba. Rivero, who was released from prison on November 30, is a renowned poet and Cuba’s best known independent journalist. 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, said he spent 11 of the 20 months in prison in a cell so small he could not extend his arms.