EU envoy urged to seek release of jailed Cubans

March 17, 2009

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

Via e-mail: [email protected]


Dear Mr. Michel, 

Your planned trip to Havana this week coincides with the sixth anniversary of Cuba’s massive crackdown on independent journalists and dissidents. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to urge Raúl Castro’s government to release the 21 journalists still jailed in Cuban prisons and extend the internationally guaranteed right of free expression to all Cubans. We also ask you to assess the Cuban government’s compliance with human rights conditions that the European Union imposed in 2008 after lifting diplomatic sanctions.

According to reports in the international and Cuban press, you will be visiting Havana on March 18 and 19 to attend a conference on renewed cooperation projects between Cuba and the European Union. During your trip, you are expected to meet with Cuban officials, including newly appointed Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

On March 18, 19, and 20, 2003, Cuban authorities orchestrated the arrest of 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists. The accused were tried in summary, closed-door hearings and sentenced to up to 24 years in prison. Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience, and the EU responded by imposing sanctions on Cuba, including a ban on high-ranking official visits by Cuban authorities to EU countries.

During the June 2008 meeting of the Council of the European Union in Brussels, the EU agreed to suspend the 2003 sanctions provided that Cuba improve its human rights record. The Cuban government should have unconditionally released all political prisoners, facilitated access of international humanitarian organizations to Cuban prisons, ratified and implemented the international covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and granted freedom of expression and information, including through the Internet. CPJ sent you a letter on June 25, 2008, urging the EU to hold Cuba accountable for press abuses.

Over the past six years, Cuba has freed a small number of journalists and dissidents in exchange for international political concessions, CPJ research has found. However, 20 reporters and editors, along with another jailed since 2003, remain in prison, making Cuba the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, after China. Jailed journalists live in inhumane conditions, their health is deteriorating, and their families are harassed by local authorities, CPJ research shows.

To date, no international humanitarian organizations have visited any of the imprisoned Cuban journalists. Nor has the Cuban government ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides “the right to freedom of expression,” or the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, both signed in February 2008 by then-Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. In our annual report, Attacks on the Press in 2008, CPJ noted extensive restrictions on Internet access in Cuba; only government officials and people with close links to the Communist Party have personal Web access. In a country where the government has complete control of the media, independent journalists working for foreign-based Internet news sites continue to be threatened and harassed by Cuba’s secret police.

In 2008, the EU announced that its relations with Cuba would be renewed annually after an assessment of the progress and commitment made by the Cuban government on issues that included human rights. We urge you to take this opportunity to address these issues with Cuban leaders, ensure that the EU conditions for the improvement of human rights will be met, and call on the government to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists unjustly imprisoned for exercising their basic human right to freedom of expression.


Joel Simon
Executive Director