Armando Betancourt
Armando Betancourt

Independent journalist, held for more than a year, is sentenced

New York, July 6, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the 15-month prison sentence given Tuesday to independent Cuban journalist Armando Betancourt Reina on charges of public disorder. Betancourt Reina had been held without charge in a prison in the central city of Camagüey since May 2006.

A Camagüey court sentenced Betancourt Reina, a reporter for the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana, after a five-hour trial, according to press reports. According to the Miami-based news Web site Bitácora Cubana, Mercedes Boudet Silva, the journalist’s wife, said her husband was returned to the Cerámica Roja Prison in Camagüey, where he has been held for more than 13 months. Boudet Silva said the time the journalist already served would count toward the sentence, Bitácora Cubana reported.

Betancourt Reina was detained on May 23, 2006, while covering the eviction of poor families from their homes, members of his family told CPJ. Local police told the family that the journalist was arrested for participating in a protest against the eviction, although sources in Camagüey told CPJ that the claim was untrue. According to Boudet Silva, authorities told her lawyer in November that Betancourt Reina would be charged with public disorder, but no charges had been filed until the trial.

“It is outrageous that Armando Betancourt Reina should have spent more than a year in prison without charge for reporting on a story that the authorities did not want covered,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It is doubly outrageous that he should now be convicted on a bogus charge and sentenced to 15 months in jail. He should be released immediately.”

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. Families and friends of many imprisoned journalists say that their health has seriously deteriorated in recent months amid poor prison conditions and insufficient health care.