Independent journalist in Havana detained without charge

New York, March 4, 2009–An independent Cuban journalist arrested on Sunday should have the charges against him made public or he should be released immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. He was picked up on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the crackdown against Cuba’s independent press.

State Security officers detained independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Pérez Guerra, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Hablemos Press, at his home, the journalist’s wife, Ismari Salomón Carcases, told CPJ. Their house doubles as the agency’s headquarters. Pérez Guerra was initially taken to a local police station and then transferred to the State Security facility Unidad 10 de octubre y Acosta in Havana, where he is being held, she said.

Salomón Carcases said State Security officials told her yesterday that her husband would be held for at least a week while he is being investigated for his work as an independent journalist and a human rights advocate. Pérez Guerra is vice president of the Havana-based organization Consejo Relator de Derechos Humanos de Cuba. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that Pérez Guerra has not been charged and has not had access to a lawyer. Salomón Carcases said State Security officers have not allowed her to speak to her husband or provide him with medicine he needs for severe allergies.

“Raúl Castro has announced some reforms for Cuba, but he has maintained his brother’s highly repressive policies toward the media,” said CPJ’s Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “What that means is that at this pivotal moment in Cuban history, the government’s message continues to be the only one heard. Cuban authorities must make the charges against Roberto de Jesús Pérez Guerra public or release him immediately.”

Salomón Carcases said her husband was detained and released at least 50 times in 2008 and that authorities repeatedly warned Pérez Guerra to stop working as an independent journalist. He reports on general news and focuses on political prisoners and broader human rights violations in Cuban prisons, his wife told CPJ. His stories appear on foreign-based Cuban news Web sites such as CubaNet and PayoLibre.

The Cuban government rounded up independent journalists in the third week of March 2003. Since then, at least 21 other reporters and editors have remained in prison in Cuba, which is the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, after China. “We call on the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists who are unjustly imprisoned for exercising their basic human right to freedom of expression,” Lauría said.