Independent journalist sentenced to two years’ house arrest

New York, November 8, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentence of two years’ house arrest handed down by a Cuban court to a journalist who reported on a dengue fever outbreak that the authorities censored.

Journalist Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez of the independent agency Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) was convicted by a court in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba on the uniquely Cuban charge of “social dangerousness.” The authorities often use this vaguely worded charge to silence critics. Under article 72 of the Cuban Penal Code, “any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality.” It is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Espinosa Rodríguez had been covering an outbreak of dengue fever in Santiago de Cuba since July. Authorities suppressed news of the outbreak which was not reported in the official press. He had been detained for a few hours at least three times during the last three months, and warned that he would go to jail if he did not stop writing “lies,” his cousin Diosmel Rodríguez told CPJ. Espinosa Rodríguez was fired by the government from his job as a nurse three months ago because of his writing, CPJ sources said.

Espinosa Rodríguez was last detained on October 26 by State Security agents and kept for 12 days at their headquarters in Santiago de Cuba, according to CPJ sources. He was released on Tuesday after a 45-minute trial.

“It is outrageous that the Cuban authorities would seek to censor an outbreak of a deadly disease and punish a journalist for performing a vital public service by exposing it,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We demand that Cuban authorities lift the house arrest order against Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez, and release the other 24 journalists unjustly imprisoned today in Cuba.”

Diosmel Rodríguez told CPJ that the sentence allows his cousin to leave his home to go to work, but bars him from attending public gatherings and from leaving Santiago de Cuba. The court also forbade Espinosa Rodríguez from practicing journalism and ordered him to work at a state-controlled office, APLO said according to the Miami-based news Web site CubaNet. Espinosa Rodríguez was warned that if he did not comply with the terms of his house arrest, he would be forced to serve his sentence in prison, according to Rodríguez.