CPJ alarmed by worsening health of journalist held without charge

New York, December 7, 2005 — A Cuban journalist detained without charge for nearly five months has lost 30 pounds (13.5 kilograms) in prison and is suffering from serious health problems his wife told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Oscar Mario González, a journalist with the independent news agency, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was arrested on July 22, 2005. His wife, Mirta Wong Sio, said she was worried about his worsening health. González, 61, suffers from osteoarthritis in his neck and back pain. He has problems sleeping and needs sleep medication, Wong said.

“We are gravely concerned about the health of our colleague Oscar Mario González who is clearly suffering health problems as a result of his imprisonment,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The fact that he has been held now for nearly five months without any charges being filed only compounds the injustice.”

González is one of 24 journalists currently in jail in Cuba. Most were detained in a massive crackdown that began in March 2003. Like González they are being held in cramped, unsanitary conditions and many have developed serious health problems.

The authorities have not said why he was detained. He is now being held at the Havana headquarters of the Technical Department of Investigations, the criminal police, where he shares a small cell with common criminal suspects. His wife said she is allowed to visit him for 20 minutes every week in the presence of a police investigator.

” I’ve asked for his case number, but he hasn’t been assigned any … he was practicing journalism, they won’t give me any other explanation,” Wong said. González has been transferred four times to police stations in Havana. In October, he was admitted to the Carlos J. Finlay military hospital for two weeks for tests because of his ill health. He was later transferred to the criminal police headquarters in Havana.

Colleagues have speculated that González might have been detained in connection with a police crackdown that began on July 22, 2005, when opposition activists planned to hold an antigovernment protest outside the French Embassy in Havana. Several leaders of the protest group, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (APSC), were detained the same day. In all, at least 29 people were detained; most were released without charge.

In May 2005, González covered the APSC congress for Grupo de Trabajo Decoro. The unprecedented two-day congress brought together 200 activists and guests to discuss ways to create a democratic society in Cuba. At the time, Cuban authorities detained and expelled at least five foreign journalists who had traveled to Cuba to cover the meeting.

A few days after González’s detention, a police investigator told his wife that he would eventually be prosecuted under the Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy, which sets penalties of up to 20 years in prison for anyone who commits “acts that in agreement with imperialist interests are aimed at subverting the internal order of the Nation and destroy its political, economic, and social system.” However, González’s wife said, she never received any confirmation that González would be tried under Law 88.

Journalists currently jailed in Cuba.