Cuban government detains two foreign journalists

New York, December 2, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Thursday’s detention of two foreign journalists who were reportedly interviewing opposition activists in Cuba’s central Sancti Spíritus province. The government was expected to expel the two journalists.

Police detained Polish journalist Anna Bikont, who works for the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, and Swiss journalist Nelly Norton on Thursday night, according to international news reports. Authorities confiscated photographs taken by Bikont, according to Agence France-Presse, quoting sources at Gazeta Wyborcza.

The two journalists were taken to Havana, where they awaited expulsion Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear whether Norton was working for a news outlet.

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said today that Cuban authorities intended to deport the journalists because they were doing journalistic work while traveling on tourist visas, according to Polskie Radio, part of Poland’s public radio network. Dobrowolski said the journalists were arrested while meeting with the activists, AFP reported.

The Spanish news agency EFE quoted Polish embassy sources in Havana as saying that authorities confiscated the journalists’ passports and plane tickets and told them they had violated their status as tourists.

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. Cuban law specifies that foreign journalists who travel to the country on a tourist visa “should abstain from practicing journalism.”

In May 2005, authorities detained and expelled at least five foreign journalists—two Italians and three Poles—who traveled to Cuba to cover a gathering of opposition activists. The government said the journalists were expelled for violating Cuban immigration law because they traveled on tourist visas.

“By detaining and expelling reporters, the Cuban government sends a message around the world that it does not tolerate critical reporting,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Cuban authorities to allow both foreign and Cuban journalists to do their work without harassment.”

Cuba is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Twenty-four journalists are imprisoned, most of them since a massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press and the opposition.