CPJ urges EU to hold Cuba accountable for press abuses

June 25, 2008

Louis Michel
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
Berlaymont 10 /165
1049 Brussels – Belgium

Dear Mr. Michel, 

In light of the European Union’s recent decision to lift 2003 diplomatic sanctions on Cuba, the Committee to Protect Journalists is writing you to ensure that President Raúl Castro’s government will effectively improve human rights conditions on the island by unconditionally releasing all imprisoned journalists and by granting freedom of information and expression to all Cubans.

During the meeting of the Council of the European Union in Brussels on June 19 and June 20, the EU agreed to suspend sanctions imposed on Cuba in 2003, after Fidel Castro’s crackdown on political dissidents and the independent press. The EU said the bloc was ready to resume an open dialogue with Cuban authorities on “all topics of mutual interest.” The suspension of the sanctions, which had banned high-ranking official visits by Cuban authorities to EU countries, took effect on Monday.

Yet five years after the Cuban government’s crackdown on the independent press, 22 journalists remain behind bars in Cuba, cementing its title as the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, after China. Twenty have been in prison since the massive crackdown on the press in 2003.

The imprisonment of journalists under inhumane conditions has taken a toll on their health, according to CPJ research. At home, their families, unable to work, scrape for basic necessities while being regularly watched and often harassed by state authorities, CPJ found in “Cuba’s Long Black Spring,” a special report released in March in Spain.

For the past five years, Cuba has used imprisoned journalists and dissidents as political leverage, sporadically releasing a few in exchange for international concessions. Last February–just months after Spain announced the resumption of some cooperation between the two countries–Cuba freed four more prisoners, including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro González Raga.

The Cuban government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. Authorities do not tolerate any kind of independent journalism. Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated, and jailed. The Cuban constitution grants the Communist Party the right to control the press; it only recognizes “freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.”

The EU has agreed to lift the sanctions, provided Cuba improves its human rights record. Under the conditions, the Cuban government must unconditionally release all political prisoners. The EU also called on Cuba to facilitate access of international humanitarian organizations to Cuban prisons, to ratify and implement the international covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and to grant freedom of expression and information, including through the Internet.

CPJ is optimistic about the EU’s decision to always address human rights issues during high-level visits to Cuba. The EU announced that, in any case, relations with Cuba will be reviewed annually. The bloc will evaluate in June 2009 the progress and commitment made by the Cuban government. According to press reports, the EU could restore sanctions if human rights do not improve.

With Raúl Castro as president, there have been significant economic, agricultural, and administrative reforms, but there has been no real progress on human rights issues, including freedom of the press. While encouraged by the European Union’s decision to scrutinize human rights conditions in Cuba, we urge you to ensure that Castro’s government unconditionally releases all dissidents, including the 22 journalists, and grants freedom of expression and information, including Internet access to all Cubans.

Joel Simon
Executive Director