Cuban journalist released after 15 months in prison

New York, August 21, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Monday’s release of independent Cuban journalist Armando Betancourt Reina, who had been imprisoned at the Cerámica Roja Prison in the central city of Camagüey since May 2006.

Betancourt Reina, a reporter for the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana, left prison Monday morning, reported the U.S.-based Radio Martí. Shortly after his release, Betancourt Reina told the Miami-based group Directorio Democrático Cubano that during his 15 months in jail he observed firsthand human rights violations in Cerámica Roja Prison. The journalist said that although he was not attacked, he witnessed guards and common criminals beating political prisoners.

“We are relieved that Armando Betancourt Reina has been freed,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “However, we reiterate our calls for Cuban authorities to immediately release the other 24 journalists unjustly imprisoned today in Cuba for expressing their views.”

Betancourt Reina was detained on May 23, 2006, while covering the eviction of poor families from their homes, according to CPJ research. 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 Mercedes Boudet Silva, the journalist’s wife, authorities told her lawyer in November that Betancourt Reina would be charged with public disorder, but no charges were filed until July 2007. On July 3, after a four-hour trial, a Camagüey court sentenced Betancourt Reina to 15 months in prison on charges of public disorder, according to press reports.

With 24 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.