Independent journalist held for a year may be charged

New York, July 20, 2006—After a year in detention without trial, Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González Pérez could soon be charged with causing public disorder, his lawyer has told the family. González, a reporter for the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was arrested on July 22, 2005 after he left his home in Havana to buy bread. He has been held in numerous jails since then, without charge.

His wife, Mirta Wong, said authorities told lawyer Amelia Rodríguez Calá last week that González would be charged with causing public disorder. The maximum penalty for public disorder is one year in prison.

“It is a scandal that after being held for a year without trial Oscar Mario González Pérez faces the prospect of being charged with a crime for which he has already served more than the maximum penalty,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “His situation demonstrates the arbitrary and punitive nature of Cuba’s legal system. He should be released immediately.”

González’s detention came amid a police crackdown in July, 2005 when opposition activists planned to hold an antigovernment protest outside the French Embassy in Havana. Several leaders of the group, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (APSC), were detained.

Wong said her husband has been held in seven different detention centers, most of which lacked proper ventilation, light, and sanitary conditions. He has not received adequate medical attention for chronic gastritis and high blood pressure, she said. On January 18, González was taken to Havana Prison 1580, where he is still being held. Messages to the Cuban mission in New York seeking comment on the case were not returned.

Another independent journalist has been held without charge since May 23. Armando Betancourt Reina, a reporter for the news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Camagüey, was arrested while covering the eviction of dozens of families from their homes. Betancourt’s wife, Mercedes Boudet Silva, told CPJ that no charges have been filed against him.

Betancourt is being held at the Cerámica Roja prison in Camagüey, she said. Cuban authorities told Betancourt’s lawyer that he would also be charged with public disorder, Boudet added.

Cuban prosecutors often fail to inform detainees about the charges they face and deny them the opportunity to review evidence against them. Under the Code of Penal Procedure, detainees may be held for no more than a week without a court reviewing the legality of their detention.

“We condemn the imprisonment of Armando Betancourt,” Simon said. “He has been denied the basic human right of due process and should be freed without delay.”

Cuba now has 25 journalists in jail, more than any country except China.