From an awardee, behind bars

From his cell in the maximum security Agüica Prison in western Matanzas province, jailed Cuban journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez has written us a letter to accept CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. In his letter, Maseda Gutiérrez speaks out “for all those who suffer the horror that characterizes despotic and oligarchic government models.” He will be honored on Tuesday. The letter follows the jump. 

An English translation of his letter is below. The original hand-written letter in Spanish is here

Aguïca Maximum Security Prison, Colon, Matanzas, July 28, 2008

Members of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, organizers of the 18th International Press Freedom Awards ceremony, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to address you and thank you very sincerely for having awarded me the 2008 International Press Freedom Award, given annually by the Committee to Protect Journalists to professional journalists who have stood out in their daily fight to defend a sacred right of all citizens.

I am part of a group of 75 peaceful fighters made up of political opponents and dissidents, directors of autonomous labor unions and emerging civil society, and independent journalists who became victims of a long, unfair, and abominable judicial process that lasted from March 18 to the 20 of 2003 simply because we confronted the current Cuban authorities.

This process began with our arbitrary detention, undertaken by agents of the political police–known as State Security–and the confiscation of the tools we used to practice our profession (computers, fax machines, radios, technical texts, computer archives, recorded information, photographs, video documentaries, our fieldwork…). We were interrogated without having our lawyers present. We were prosecuted in tampered trials without the possibility of presenting our own witnesses. We were unable to have work sessions between the accused and our attorneys previous to the trials, which were conducted without observing the most minimal respect for the penal code. We were given lengthy sentences under the absurd and unbelievable criminal figure of “mercenaries at the service of a foreign power acting against Cuba’s territorial security, integrity, and economy,” when in fact we defended, defend, and will continue to defend the rights to freedom of thought, opinion, and to gather with those with whom we share ideas and beliefs. We have been deprived of our civil, political, economic, educational, and cultural rights. We have been marginalized from society, deported from our home provinces and forced into jails disseminated across the country, where we are subject to the worst living conditions, the harshest disciplinary rules, and the most intense isolation that a human being can be reduced to.  

The sentences–enormous–ranged from 15 to 28 years in prison. In my case, due to my dual role as a journalist independent from the government and a Cuban political leader since 1993, I was handed a 20-year sentence. During the initial two years and 10 months, I had to serve my sentence in a maximum security prison that requires complete isolation between punishment cells, without any contact with the rest of the prison’s population or the usual benefit of having two months taken off my sentence for every year served, without the usual visits every three months or additional visits every six months; without access to the conjugal pavilions for six to 12 hours … that are allotted to any other common prisoner. 

On the contrary, I was transferred without justification to the toughest prison in the country: the Special Incremented System (or REI, its Spanish acronym), which is located in the city of Santa Clara in the Villa Clara province, where I spent six and a half months –from January 26, 2005, to September 6 of that year. Later, I had a short stay of almost three months in La Pendiente Prison, in the city by the same name, in order to regain the 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of body weight I had lost during my time at REI. Lastly, I was sent to the Provincial Maximum Security Prison Agüica (on December 19, 2005), in Colón, Matanzas, where I am currently being held.

After analyzing the 75 case files, in 2003, Amnesty International declared us–without any doubt–prisoners of conscience. This is the title under which we are recognized by nongovernmental organization that monitor human rights all over the planet, as well as by many chiefs and former chiefs of state and government, European leaders, outstanding personalities from different disciplines of knowledge, and generally by the people of many democratic countries that support us and show humanitarian solidarity to the cause that we defend.

Even while deprived of my freedom, I continue to carry on with my work as a defender and disseminator of the truth, in a forthright challenge to those who by holding on to power, are keeping me arbitrarily locked up. The multiple reports printed under my name and with my byline (all true) are proof of the violations of prisoners’ rights committed by prison authorities as detailed in my testimonial book Buried AliveVolume I. The text will be made up of three parts. The first was published in North America, the Caribbean and Western Europe.

The piece constitutes, in essence, a public, fitting, international denunciation of the Cuban judicial system, of the arbitrary conception and application of the existing national criminal laws, of the crude violation of the most basic procedural rights that should assist people who are jailed, and of the penitentiary regime that exists in a country where the above are used daily in its prisons. Cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of any inmate, without exception, happens daily with the knowledge of the country’s highest authorities.

In its chapters, I rigorously narrated the experiences that I have gone through and that demonstrate in an irrefutable manner–even though the book does not cover them in all their extension and depth–the hidden but existing reality of the prisons of our Cuban archipelago.

Finally, I believe this testimony could be assumed as an insistent voice for all those who suffer the horror that characterizes despotic and oligarchic government models. This work will travel, like a galloping knight armed with his sword, morally strengthened or blessed by the truth, to all the latitudes of the planet it can visit and it will act as a public and challenging message to those who control people and countries in any part of the world.

Sadly, at times, life shipwrecks the vessel of our dreams and hopes when we are slammed against the reefs of our surrounding reality. However, faced with such hard and unexpected trials as are provided by men, our time and circumstances, we must get up again as many times as it is necessary, with dignity, responsibility and decorum, courage intelligence, and creativity, and take up once more our fight, from the same place where we were defeated, but not vanquished, with stronger spirits, convinced that we dissent because of our criteria, but that we must use our strength in order to conquer truth and justice or die striving and defending them.

That has been, is now, and will continue to be my emblem in honesty and total harmony with what my conscience dictates.

Admired and respected friends, those present, and organizers of such an important event, please receive my highest and most distinguished consideration.

Héctor F. Maseda Gutiérrez

Cuban independent journalist and prisoner of conscience