CPJ concerned about deteriorating health of two Cuban journalists

New York, June 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today at the worsening health of two independent Cuban journalists. Guillermo Fariñas, who has refused food for four months to protest government restrictions on Internet access, was still unconscious five days after emergency surgery to remove fluid from his left lung, his mother told CPJ.

Alicia Hernández said her son was in a stable but critical condition. Fariñas went on hunger strike January 31. He has been in the hospital for much of the time since then, receiving fluids and vitamins intravenously. Fariñas is director of the independent news agency Cubanacán Press.

“We are shocked and appalled that Guillermo Fariñas has become critically ill protesting the government’s policy of depriving Cubans of access to the Internet, something which should be theirs by right,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

CPJ is also alarmed by a report that the health of jailed journalist José Luis García Paneque has worsened since his transfer in November from Havana’s Combinado del Este prison to Las Mangas prison in Granma province. He is suffering from severe intestinal problems and internal bleeding, according to his wife Yamilé Llanes. She said he is not receiving adequate medical care in the prison infirmary, and has been repeatedly mistreated by common criminals. Calls to the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York for comment were not returned.

García Paneque, director of the independent news agency Libertad, was jailed in March 2003 in a government crackdown on the independent media and political opposition. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison. His weight has plummeted in jail, and Llanes believes he is suffering from malnutrition. In November 2005, she requested medical parole but the authorities have not responded.

“We are deeply troubled by the worsening health of our two colleagues. We hold the Cuban government responsible for the welfare of García Paneque, and urge it to ensure the proper care of all imprisoned journalists,” Cooper said. “These journalists should never have been jailed in the first place, and should be released.”

Cuba has jailed 25 journalists, more than any other country except China.