CPJ concerned about health of imprisoned Cuban journalist on hunger strike

New York, July 30, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the health of imprisoned Cuban journalist Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, who has been on a hunger strike for 12 days to demand better prison conditions.

Herrera Acosta, who is being held at the eastern Holguín Provincial Prison, is suffering from high fevers, hypoglycemia, and low blood pressure, said Melba Santana Ariz, wife of fellow political prisoner Alfredo Domingo Batista. Santana Ariz told CPJ she visited the prison yesterday but authorities did not allow her to see the journalist. However, Herrera Acosta was able to smuggle a note out to her detailing his condition. In his note, Herrera Acosta said prison authorities had denied him medical attention, Santana Ariz told CPJ.

The journalist went on the hunger strike on July 18, according to CPJ interviews and international news reports. He told Santana Ariz the day before in a phone call that he was demanding better food, access to medications, religious assistance, longer phone calls to his family, and a transfer to a prison in his home province of Guantanamo. Since then, Herrera Acosta has refused to receive food or water, said Santana Ariz.

“We hold the Cuban government responsible for the welfare of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas senior program coordinator. “Cuban authorities must immediately release Herrera Acosta and the other 21 journalists who should never have been imprisoned in the first place.”

On July 21, Herrera Acosta sewed his mouth shut as further protest, the Holguín-based reporter Caridad Caballero told CPJ. According to Santana Ariz, the reporter still has the stitches, which have become infected.

Herrera Acosta, a reporter for the independent Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (Eastern Free Press Agency), was jailed during a massive crackdown against the Cuban dissidence and independent press in March 2003. He was handed a 20-year prison sentence under Law 88 for the protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy. Herrera Acosta suffers from heart disease and high blood pressure, among other illnesses, his wife, Ileana Danger Hardy, told CPJ in 2007. |

Twenty-two journalists are currently in prison in Cuba, the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, after China. Twenty, including Herrera Acosta, have been in prison since 2003.