14th Cuban journalist freed, flown to Spain

New York, August 20, 2010–Today Juan Adolfo Fernández Saínz became the 14th imprisoned Cuban journalist released and flown to Spain, following July talks between the Catholic Church and the government of President Raúl Castro.

“I will continue working as a reporter, telling the world about my seven-year-long unjust captivity, and the stories of my brave colleagues who remain in Cuba,” Fernández Saínz told CPJ.

The journalist landed today in Madrid around noon with his wife and his brother-in-law, according to international news reports. On arrival, he was driven to a hotel in Mostoles, 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Madrid, the press reported.

In a phone interview with CPJ, Fernández Saínz said he was happy to have regained his freedom, but wished he’d been given the chance to stay in Cuba. “I accepted that I had to go to Spain because my family, particularly my wife, has been the victim of systematic harassment by the Cuban government lately; we couldn’t take this situation any longer,” he said.

Fernández Saínz, formerly a correspondent for the independent news agency Patria, was jailed during the massive March 2003 government crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism known as the Black Spring. Six journalists arrested during the 2003 crackdown remain in prison, as does one other journalist who was detained later, CPJ research shows.

After negotiations with Cuba’s Catholic Church, Castro agreed in July to free a total of 52 dissidents arrested in the 2003 crackdown.

Below is CPJ capsule report on Juan Adolfo Rodríguez Saínz from CPJ’s annual census of jailed journalists, conducted in December 2009.

Juan Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Patria

Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

In March 2003, Cuban state security agents raided the Havana home of Fernández Saínz, correspondent for the independent news agency Patria, and then arrested the journalist. He was tried under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy in April. In June of that year, Cuba’s highest court, the People’s Supreme Tribunal, upheld his conviction and his 15-year prison sentence.

Fernández Saínz, 60, was being held at Canaleta Prison in central Ciego de Ávila province, 250 miles (400 kilometers) from his home, CPJ research shows. Prison authorities allowed him family visits once every two months. His wife, Julia Núñez Pacheco, told CPJ that traveling to the prison was difficult and very expensive. A one-way bus ticket cost 85 Cuban pesos (US$3.75), a large portion of the average Cuban monthly salary of 480 Cuban pesos (US$21).

Conditions in Canaleta Prison were very poor, Núñez Pacheco told CPJ. Her husband was housed in a barracks with roughly 40 other inmates with almost no air circulation and bad hygiene. Food was inadequate and often inedible, she said. He suffered from chronic hypertension, emphysema, osteoporosis, prostate ailments, and four kidney cysts, and received scant medical attention.