New York, March 16, 2005—More than 100 prominent writers, editors, and reporters throughout Latin America joined the Committee to Protect Journalists today in calling on Cuban President Fidel Castro to immediately release 23 jailed journalists, saying the two-year-long imprisonments violate “the most basic norms of international law” and represent “an affront to human dignity.”
The demand, made in a letter sent today to Castro and signed by 108 writers from 18 countries, comes nearly two years to the day that Cuban authorities swept up dozens of independent journalists and dissidents in a massive effort to silence political criticism. Signers of today’s letter include Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez, Brazilian journalist Geraldinho Vieira, and Venezuelan editor Teodoro Petkoff.
Twenty-nine journalists working for independent newspapers, magazines, and news services were arrested in the crackdown that began March 18, 2003. Two weeks later, the journalists were tried summarily in closed-door, one-day trials and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years. Six who were in failing health were freed last year on medical paroles.
With 23 still in prison, Cuba is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. The imprisoned journalists have reported unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate medical care, and rotten food. Most journalists are allowed family visits only once every three months.
“As writers and journalists in Latin America, we earn our livelihoods by gathering and disseminating information and, in some cases, expressing our opinions,” the journalists said in a letter co-signed by CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We believe that our activities benefit the societies in which we live and that our right to freedom of expression is protected by international law. For the Cuban government to arbitrarily abrogate this right is an affront to human dignity. We urge the Cuban government to respect international law by allowing journalists to work freely, without fear of reprisal.”