December 31, 2008
Raúl Castro Ruz
President of the Republic of Cuba
C/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
315 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY
Via facsimile: (212) 779-1697
Dear President Castro,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to you on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution to renew its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists jailed in your country. With 21 reporters and editors unjustly incarcerated, Cuba is one of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, second only to China.
On Monday, CPJ sent more than 500 appeals to the Cuban government asking for the release of Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, recipient of CPJ’s 2008 International Press Freedom Award, and the 20 other journalists who are behind bars in Cuba. Maseda Gutíerrez, 65, is the oldest imprisoned Cuban journalist. Incarcerated during the government’s March 2003 crackdown on political dissidents and the independent press, he was given a 20-year prison sentence.
These petitions were sent to the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City. They were signed by prominent U.S. and international journalists who gathered for CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards ceremony. CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, a CPJ board member, announced the award to Maseda Gutíerrez.
Maseda Gutiérrez was detained along with 28 other independent journalists while the world’s attention was focused on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. These reporters and editors were tried summarily behind closed doors and sentenced to terms ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison. Based on our review of trial documents, we believe that the journalists were prosecuted for engaging in professional activities protected by international law. Nine have since been released on medical parole.
n 2007, one more journalist was jailed. Freelance reporter Oscar Sánchez Madan, 46, was convicted of “social dangerousness,” a vague pre-emptory charge contained in Article 72 of the penal code, following a one-day trial, and was given the maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The imprisoned journalists are held in inhumane conditions, and many suffer deteriorating 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.
CPJ research shows that over the past five years, the Cuban government has used jailed journalists and other dissidents as political leverage, sporadically releasing a few in exchange for international concessions. Last February–just months after Spain announced the resumption of some cooperative programs with Cuba–your country freed four more prisoners, including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro González Raga. On December 18, you offered to exchange jailed political dissidents for five Cuban citizens imprisoned in the United States on espionage charges, describing it as a gesture toward dialogue with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, according to reports in the international press.
While we welcome the release of any imprisoned journalist, we are distressed that they would be used as bargaining chips. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all 21 jailed journalists. The imprisonment of journalists in reprisal for their independent reporting violates international law, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by your government this year, which provides “the right to freedom of expression.”
Since you became president, there have been significant economic, agricultural, and administrative reforms in Cuba. However, there has been no real progress on press freedom issues. On the eve of this historic date for your country, we urge you to free these jailed journalists and grant freedom of expression and information, including Internet access, to all citizens as a sign that your government is willing to uphold international human rights standards.