Cuban journalist sentenced to prison on ‘dangerousness’ charge

New York, April 19, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the four-year prison sentence handed down on Friday to Cuban independent journalist Oscar Sánchez Madan after a one-day trial on a charge of “social dangerousness.”

Cuban authorities arrested Sánchez Madan, reporter for the Miami-based news Web site CubaNet, on Friday morning at his home in the western province of Matanzas, according to international press reports and CPJ interviews. He was tried on “social dangerousness” charges at 7 p.m. that day and given the maximum sentence of four years in prison, said Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana. The journalist was not allowed a lawyer, and his family was banned from the proceedings, Sánchez Santa Cruz said.

Cuban authorities often use the vaguely worded “social dangerousness” charge to silence critics, CPJ research shows. 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.”

Sánchez Madan is being held at the maximum security prison Combinado del Sur, outside the provincial capital of Matanzas. According to Sánchez Santa Cruz, he has not seen his family but was able to call them after the trial.

The journalist covered a local corruption scandal this year, along with social problems in Matanzas. He had been detained twice since 2006 and warned repeatedly by local authorities to stop working as an independent journalist, Matanzas-based journalist Hugo Araña told CPJ. After a detention in March, Sánchez Madan told the news Web site Bitacora Cubana that he would not stop working.

“It is outrageous that Cuba has once again thrown a journalist in jail after a summary trial or a trumped up charge,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on Cuban authorities to release Sánchez Madan immediately, as well as the other 24 independent journalists unjustly imprisoned on the island today.”

With 25 independent journalists in prison, Cuba continues to be one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Twenty-two of these journalists were jailed in a March 2003 crackdown.