Cuba detains, expels several foreign journalists

New York, May 20, 2005 – The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention and expulsion of several foreign journalists who traveled to Cuba to cover an unprecedented gathering today of opposition activists and international observers.

Italian journalist Francesco Battistini, who arrived in Cuba last night on assignment for the Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, was detained this morning, the newspaper reported. Corriere della Sera said it did not have further details, but it expected Battistini would be expelled.

Polish journalist Jerzy Jurecki, an editor with the regional weekly Tygodnik Podhalanski, was detained at his hotel in Havana last night and taken to an immigration detention center near Havanaís airport, according to international news reports. Polish journalist Seweryn Blumsztajn, who works for the national daily Gazeta Wyborcza, was detained with Jurecki, press reports said. A third journalist, whose name has not been disclosed but who reportedly works for the Polish edition of Newsweek magazine, was also in police custody. The three journalists, together with three other Polish citizens, are at a Cuban airport awaiting expulsion.

Cuba’s ambassador to Poland said the journalists had traveled to Cuba on tourist visas and were violating Cuban law, The Associated Press reported.

Authorities barred several other Spanish and Italian journalists who traveled to Cuba on tourist visas from reporting on the opposition gathering, the Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald reported. Over the last several days, several European legislators invited to the gathering have also been expelled from, or denied entry to Cuba.

The two-day meeting, the first such event ever held by opposition activists, was organized by the Assembly to Promote Civil Society (APSC), an umbrella group of civil society and dissident groups. The assembly, in the planning for several years, was designed to bring together dissidents and to formulate plans to create a democratic society in Cuba. The meeting began today with 200 activists and guests in attendance at the house of dissident Félix Bonne Carcassés in Havana’s outskirts. Organizers have complained that dissidents from other provinces were harassed and forbidden to travel to Havana.

Under Cuban immigration regulations, foreign reporters who visit the island to work must apply for journalist visas, which are processed through Cuban embassies abroad. Cuban officials grant visas to foreign journalists selectively, CPJ research shows, and they routinely exclude those from media outlets deemed unfriendly, such as The Miami Herald. Cuban law further specifies that foreign journalists who travel to the country on a tourist visa “should abstain from practicing journalism.”

“The Cuban government has clearly used a politicized visa process to block critical coverage,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Cuban authorities to allow both foreign and Cuban journalists to do their work without harassment.”

Twenty-three Cuban journalists have been imprisoned since March 2003 as part of a massive government crackdown on the independent press and dissidents. CPJ and many other groups have campaigned for the release of the journalists, who have been jailed on charges of working against the interests of the state.