Dozens of Latin American writers join CPJ in urging Castro to release jailed colleagues
March 16, 2005
Fidel Castro Ruz
President of the Councils of State and Ministers
Republic of Cuba
c/o Cuban Interests Section in the United States of America
2630 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Via facsimile: (202) 797-8521
The Committee to Protect Journalists, together with the following 107 Latin American journalists and writers, calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all imprisoned Cuban journalists. We further demand that the sentences of six journalists released on medical parole be annulled.
With 23 imprisoned journalists, Cuba remains one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. The journalists have been jailed since March 2003, when the Cuban government arrested them as the world’s attention was focused on the war in Iraq. Two weeks after their detentions, the journalists were tried summarily–their trials lasted one day–behind closed doors, and they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years.
Although the Cuban government has labeled them “mercenaries,” an analysis of trial documents shows that the journalists’ work was within the parameters of the legitimate exercise of free expression established under international human rights standards.
The imprisoned journalists have reported unsanitary prison conditions and inadequate medical care. They have also complained of receiving rotten food. Unlike the general prison population, most journalists are only allowed family visits every three months and marital visits every four months. Their relatives have been harassed for talking to the foreign press, protesting the journalists’ incarceration, and gathering signatures calling for their release.
Those journalists who were ill before being jailed have seen their health worsen in prison and have been transferred to hospitals or prison infirmaries, while others have developed new illnesses. Some journalists went on hunger strikes during 2004 to protest their conditions. Because prison authorities refused to allow outside contact with the strikers or to disclose information about them, their families were unable to monitor their health.
Between June and December 2004, Cuban authorities released six journalists on medical parole. One released journalist, Carmelo Díaz Fernández, was warned that he would be sent back to prison if he recovered from his illnesses–or if he did not maintain “good behavior.”
In late 2004, the remaining jailed journalists were transferred to prison hospitals in Havana, ostensibly for medical checkups. The transfers came as Cuba resumed formal diplomatic contacts with Spain in a possible precursor to normalizing relations with the European Union. The circumstances fueled speculation that additional releases were imminent, but all 23 were returned to their prisons.
Most jailed journalists are far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. The imprisonment of these journalists in reprisal for their independent reporting violates the most basic norms of international law, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees everyone “the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
As writers and journalists in Latin America, we earn our livelihoods by gathering and disseminating information and, in some cases, expressing our opinions. 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.
List of journalists and writers who have joined CPJ’s letter to the Cuban government
Lista de periodistas y escritores que han adherido a la carta del CPJ al gobierno cubano
Tomás Eloy Martínez
Joaquín Morales Solá
Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú
José Ignacio López
María Jimena Duzán
Darío Fernando Patiño
Juan Manuel Ruiz
Jaime Abello Banfi
Javier Darío Restrepo
María Teresa Ronderos
María Isabel Cerón
Jorge Zepeda Patterson
J. Jesús Blancornelas
Francisco Martín Moreno
Federico Reyes Heroles