Cuban journalist released on parole; two remain behind bars

New York, February 22, 2011–Iván Hernández Carrillo, a Cuban journalist imprisoned since March 2003, was released on parole Saturday and permitted to remain in the country, bringing to 19 the number of reporters and editors freed after an agreement between the President Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Cuban authorities today to lift all conditions on Hernández Carrillo’s release and to free the two journalists that remain imprisoned on the island.

In a brief announcement issued on its website, the Catholic Church said Saturday that seven political prisoners, including Hernández Carrillo, would soon be released from prison. According to news reports, Hernández Carrillo was freed later that day on “extrajudicial license,” a form of parole, and rejoined his family in western Matanzas province. 

Following his release, Hernández Carrillo told Agence France-Presse: “I am free. I will keep writing, as I did from prison and as I will now from the street. I will write of the events that affect ordinary Cubans.”

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez
Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez

Hernández Carrillo, 39, was freed after nearly eight years in jail as part of a July 7, 2010, agreement brokered by the Catholic Church for Cuban authorities to release the remaining 52 detainees rounded up in what is known as the Black Spring of 2003 “within three to four months,” the church said in a statement issued that day.  He is the second journalist of the Black Spring detainees to be permitted to remain in Cuba after rejecting exile to Spain as a condition for his release. Award-winning independent journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez returned to his home in Havana on February 12, following his release on parole. Another 17 reporters released were flown immediately to Spain. (One has relocated to Chile and two have relocated to the U.S.)

“Iván Hernández Carrillo and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez have been released in a way that leaves the door open to further harassment and arrest,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior coordinator for the Americas program said. “Cuban authorities should remove any parole stipulation and release all journalists unconditionally.”

Hernández Carrillo, a reporter for the independent news agency Patria, was sentenced in April 2003 to 25 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy. The journalist was subjected to harassment and assault while in prison, according to his mother, Asunción Carrillo, who said prison authorities had encouraged inmates to attack him.

After July talks between the government and the Catholic Church, Hernández Carrillo was transferred from a prison in Santa Clara province, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from his family’s home in Matanzas province, to La Henequenera Prison in his home province, his mother told CPJ. He suffered from hypertension and gastritis.

With Hernández Carrillo’s release, two journalists remain imprisoned in Cuba. Journalist Pedro Argüelles Morán is among a few detainees from the 2003 crackdown who expressed their desire to stay in Cuba upon release, according to the reporters’ families. The other journalist still behind bars, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, was imprisoned in April 2009.

On February 9, CPJ sent a letter to Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero calling for the Spanish government to push Cuban authorities to fulfill their promise to free all journalists held since the 2003 crackdown. Argüelles Morán and Du Bouchet Hernández reportedly went on hunger strike two weeks ago to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners.