Cuban journalist sentenced to three years in prison

New York, May 14, 2009–A Cuban independent journalist was sentenced during a summary trial on Tuesday to three years in prison on charges of “disrespect,” journalists in Havana told the Committee to Protect Journalists today.

According to the foreign-based Cuban news Web site Cubamatinal, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Habana Press was also charged with distributing enemy propaganda, although CPJ could not confirm the charge or whether he was convicted of it. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that the journalist was not allowed a defense lawyer but has already appealed his sentence. The appeal is pending.

Officers arrested Du Bouchet Hernández on the afternoon of April 18 while he was visiting relatives in Artemisa, 38 miles (60 kilometers) from Havana, according to CPJ interviews and foreign-based Cuban news Web sites. The police claimed Du Bouchet Hernández was shouting anti-government slogans in the street, Sánchez Santa Cruz told CPJ. His family has been unable to see him since his arrest, according to Cubamatinal.

Miriam Herrera, an independent journalist based in Havana who has spoken to Du Bouchet Hernández since he’s been jailed, said she believed he was imprisoned in reprisal for his work. Herrera told CPJ that Du Bouchet Hernández had recently reported on social issues. Sánchez Santa Cruz said the circumstances behind the arrest remained unclear.

“Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández has been tried and convicted on charges that have not been made public and without legal representation,” CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría said. “We call on the Cuban authorities to follow due process and allow Du Bouchet Hernández access to a lawyer. He now joins 21 other independent journalists currently jailed under bogus charges as retaliation for their reporting.”

Du Bouchet Hernández had previously been jailed on “disrespect” charges. He was detained in August 2005 while on a reporting trip to Artemisa. He was summarily tried and sentenced to one year in prison; he did not have access to a lawyer before or during the trial. The journalist had drawn the ire of authorities a few months earlier, when he covered the congress of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The two-day gathering, unprecedented in Cuba, brought together 200 opposition activists and guests in May 2005 to discuss ways to create democracy in Cuba. Du Bouchet Hernández was released in August 2006 after completing his sentence.

Twenty-one independent reporters and editors are currently jailed in Cuba, which is the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world after China. Twenty of them have been held in inhumane conditions since the massive March 2003 crackdown on Cuba’s dissidents and independent press. CPJ recently ranked the island as the fourth-worst country in the world to be a blogger in a recent report.