Almost three weeks after being released from jail following eight years of inhumane treatment in Cuba’s infamous prison system, CPJ’s 2008 International Press Freedom award winner Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez said he is committed to going back to independent journalism. “That’s my will, and I have decided to do it here in Havana,” Maseda said in a telephone conversation from Cuba’s capital.
On January 18, weeks prior to his release, Maseda turned 68 in prison. He was the oldest of the 29 editors and reporters jailed during Cuba’s March 2003 Black Spring. Despite his age, however, Maseda was able to overcome harsh prison conditions and remained in impressively good health in comparison to other jailed journalists. On the phone with CPJ on Wednesday, Maseda said that he and the others had gone “through trial by fire” but “we were stronger than the trial.”
Maseda’s firm belief in his right to freedom of expression and the injustice of his imprisonment were the pillars of his incredible strength throughout the eight years he spent in prison. During that time, Maseda said that he exercised daily, running when he was allowed out of his small cell. He also spent time reporting from prison, and wrote two books that he was able to smuggle out page by page.
His wife, Laura Pollán, the spokeswoman of the Cuban human rights group Ladies in White, was Maseda’s rock throughout his ordeal, the journalist said. Support from the international community, journalists worldwide, and CPJ’s efforts to campaign for his release were another source of strength. “I received positive energy, and I never felt alone,” he told us.
Maseda has once again set up his office in his central Havana home. The last time he had been at the house before his February release, police were rummaging through his papers, books, clothes, and kitchenware, itemizing domestic objects that would be used as evidence in a sham trial weeks later. And yet, after all this, Maseda said he will not be forced to leave Cuba. “The place of a Cuban patriot is in his country,” he said, adding that “when faced by an opponent, one has to be stubborn in order to show the strength of one’s principles.”