March 18, 2010
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
President of the Government of Spain
In charge of the presidency of the European Union
Palacio de Moncloa
Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217
Dear President Rodríguez Zapatero:
On the seventh anniversary of the Cuban government’s massive crackdown on dissidents and the independent press, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you as leader of the European Union to take the forefront in defending human rights by urging President Raúl Castro to immediately release 22 journalists now jailed in Cuba.
From March 18-20, 2003, Cuban state security agents arrested 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists, in a roundup known as the Black Spring. Within weeks, authorities held summary trials and sentenced these journalists to prison terms of up to 28 years on vague antistate charges connected to their reporting.
The EU imposed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in response but lifted them in 2008 provided the Cuban government improve its human rights record. Havana has disregarded these conditions. Under the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has continued to jail writers and editors and has failed to reform some the world’s most repressive laws on freedom of expression. In letters to European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel on June 25, 2008, and March 17, 2009, CPJ has detailed this unfortunate record and has urged the EU to hold Cuba accountable for press freedom abuses.
Over the past seven years, Cuba has freed a small number of journalists in exchange for international political concessions, but it has released none since February 2008, CPJ research shows. In fact, one additional independent journalist has been imprisoned since 2008. Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Havana Press, was sentenced in May 2009 to three years in prison on charges of “disrespect” and distributing “enemy propaganda.”
With 22 reporters and editors in prison, Cuba is the third-worst jailer of journalists in the world after Iran and China. These imprisoned journalists are often warehoused in inhumane conditions, deprived of wholesome food and adequate medical care. Their health is worsening, and their families are harassed by authorities, CPJ research shows.
In our annual worldwide survey of press freedom conditions, Attacks on the Press, CPJ has detailed other, significant areas in which the Cuban government denies its citizens the fundamental right of free expression. In a country where the government has complete control of the media, independent journalists working for foreign-based news Web sites are routinely threatened and harassed by security police. Laws and regulations restricting Internet access continue to be among the most repressive in the world. In a 2009 report on online repression worldwide, CPJ ranked the island nation as the fourth-worst country in the world to be a blogger.
Despite these huge obstacles, Cuban citizens yearn to exercise their right to free expression. A new community of independent bloggers and online journalists has emerged in Cuba in recent years, a 2009 CPJ report found. These bloggers and online journalists face ongoing intimidation and threats.
Under your leadership, the Spanish government has played a key role in helping to secure the release of jailed Cuban dissidents, including a number of independent journalists. While we appreciate your efforts, it is important to note that progress has stalled. As you know, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 11 condemning the death in custody of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata, urging the Cuban government to release all political prisoners, and noting the lack of a significant Cuban government response to the EU’s calls for reform.
Spanish officials have indicated interest in revising the EU’s 1996 Common Position on Cuba. The common position, which was reaffirmed in June 2009, demands improvement in human rights and political liberties in Cuba. CPJ believes the EU’s common position must continue to seek demonstrable improvements in human rights. The EU should insist that improved economic and political ties depend on the release of all imprisoned journalists. Cuba must be held accountable for its human rights lapses; it must not be rewarded for pursuing a cynical strategy of releasing a small number of dissidents in exchange for improved international relations.
Cuban journalists have paid an enormous price for exercising the basic human right of free expression. We call on you as EU leader to work with the other European heads of state and government to urge Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, allow international humanitarian organizations access to Cuban prisons, implement international covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and grant freedom of expression and access to information online, in print, and on the air.
Thank you for your attention.