CPJ calls for release of 24 others still unjustly imprisoned

New York, December 1, 2005—Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández, an imprisoned Cuban journalist who wounded himself and waged repeated hunger strikes to call attention to his plight, was released on medical parole today, more than two and half years after he was jailed in the government’s massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press.

The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Cuban government, the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, to release the two dozen other writers and editors held unjustly in prisons throughout the island.

“It’s abominable that our colleague Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández was forced to resort to these extreme measures to gain the attention of authorities,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “His situation highlights the abysmal conditions for the other 24 jailed Cuban journalists, all of whom should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The journalist’s wife, Maidelín Guerra Álvarez, told CPJ that a state security officer notified her this morning that her husband would be released on a one-year medical parole. When she and other relatives arrived at Kilo 7 Prison in Camagüey province, she said, they were told his mental state had deteriorated. In September, Mayo Hernández cut himself several times and threatened to kill himself, Guerra Álvarez said.

Under the terms of his medical parole, Mayo Hernández is required to visit the state security headquarters every month to sign a document attesting that he still resides in the province. He is required to return to the prison in November 2006 when officials will determine whether his medical parole will be extended or revoked.

Mayo Hernández, director of the independent news agency Félix Varela, was summarily tried in a closed-door proceeding in April 2003 under Article 91 of the penal code, which imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for those who act against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.” He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Twice in 2003, Mayo Hernández joined other imprisoned journalists in hunger strikes to demand better food and medical attention and to protest mistreatment of other inmates. Mayo Hernández also suffers from high blood pressure and stomach problems, according to Guerra Álvarez.

In December 2004, Mayo Hernández was taken to the hospital at Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. There, he was also found to have glaucoma in his left eye and an inflamed prostate, Guerra Álvarez said. In July 2005, Mayo Hernández waged a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment and lost about 20 pounds.

Cuba is second only to China in jailing journalists. Two Cuban journalists were imprisoned during 2005; 22 others have been jailed since the March 2003 crackdown on the independent press and the opposition.

Many of the jailed journalists are far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. They have denounced unsanitary prison conditions and inadequate medical care, and they have complained of being fed rotten food. Many of the imprisoned journalists are allowed family visits only once every three months and marital visits only once every four months.