15th Cuban journalist freed, exiled to Spain

New York, September 8, 2010–Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, a Cuban journalist imprisoned since March 2003, was freed and flown to Madrid today, bringing to 15 the number of editors and reporters released following July talks between the government of President Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church.

Arroyo and his family arrived in Madrid this afternoon, and were taken to a hotel in the city’s Vallecas neighborhood, according to news reports.

“I am very excited at this new stage in my life, trying to enjoy every little moment,” Arroyo told CPJ in a telephone interview. Echoing comments made by other newly freed Cuban journalists, Arroyo said he had not wanted to leave Cuba. “But after considering my family’s well-being and the severe, negative impact that prison conditions had on my health, I decided to accept the offer to come to Spain.”

A journalist for the news agency Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes, Arroyo was imprisoned during the massive March 2003 government crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism known as the Black Spring. Five journalists arrested during the 2003 crackdown remain in jail, as does one other journalist who was detained later, CPJ research shows.

After negotiations with leaders of Cuba’s Catholic Church, Castro agreed in July to free a total of 52 dissidents who were arrested in the 2003 crackdown. Spanish government officials also participated in the talks.

All 15 of the journalists released thus far were immediately whisked into exile in Spain. (One has since relocated to Chile.) The Cuban government hasn’t explicitly demanded that freed prisoners leave the country as a condition of release, but it’s clear that is what authorities have wanted, CPJ’s European Consultant Borja Bergareche has reported.

Below is a capsule report on Arroyo’s case from CPJ’s annual census of jailed journalists, conducted in December 2009.

Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Arroyo Carmona, a journalist for the independent news agency Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes in his home province of Pinar del Río, was handed a 26-year prison sentence for acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” under Article 91 of the penal code in April 2003.

Arroyo Carmona was being held at the Kilo 5½ Prison, his wife, Elsa González Padrón, told CPJ. The journalist, who was housed in a hall with at least 130 prisoners, waged a hunger strike in May to protest prison conditions, news reports said. Arroyo Carmona–who had been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and pulmonary emphysema–protested a lack of medical attention, unsanitary cell conditions, cruel treatment, and obstruction of his efforts to practice religion. At least three other political prisoners joined the reporter in his protest.