After signing accord, Cuba should free journalists

New York, February 28, 2008—The Cuban government should release 22 imprisoned independent journalists in keeping with an international accord protecting free expression that was signed today by Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Pérez Roque signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides “the right to freedom of expression” along with numerous other fundamental human rights. In a signing statement, however, the foreign minister said his government would submit what he called interpretations and reservations regarding certain provisions, according to international press reports. Pérez Roque did not specify the reservations or say when they would be disclosed.

He also signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights with similar caveats. The agreements, adopted in 1966 by the U.N. General Assembly, expand and codify the fundamental rights first outlined in the landmark 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Cuba is one of the world’s most censored nations , according to CPJ research. The Communist Party controls all news reporting through its propaganda-minded Department of Revolutionary Orientation. Press rights are granted only “in accordance with the goals of the socialist society,” according to its constitution. With 22 journalists behind bars , Cuba is also the world’s second leading jailers of journalists, behind only to China.

“We call on the Cuban government to uphold in letter and spirit the agreements it signed today and immediately release all jailed journalists,” said Joel Simon, CPJ Executive Director. “The actions of the Cuban government should faithfully reflect, without caveats, the fundamental free expression guarantees contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Pérez Roque had indicated in December 2007 that his country would sign the pacts. Today’s signing was Pérez Roque’s first international appearance since Raúl Castro was officially named president on February 24.

Pérez Roque deflected questions about political prisoners at a U.N. press conference, but he took the opportunity to accuse the United States of impeding Cubans’ rights by maintaining its longstanding trade embargo. He later told reporters during an informal question-and-answer session that his government considers the political prisoners to be “mercenaries” in the service of the United States.

Of the 22 journalists jailed today in Cuba, 20 were detained during a massive crackdown against the island’s dissident movement and independent press in March 2003. They are held in inhumane conditions and their health is rapidly deteriorating, according to a December report by CPJ .

José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro González Raga , two independent reporters who had been jailed since 2003, and two dissidents were released earlier this month and expelled to Spain with their families.