Last Black Spring reporter freed; one still jailed in Cuba

New York, March 7, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of Cuban independent journalist Pedro Argüelles Morán on Friday, and calls on Cuban authorities to eliminate all conditions on his freedom. Argüelles Morán, at left, was the last of 29 reporters arrested during a 2003 massive government crackdown on dissent to be allowed to leave jail, on parole. 

On Friday afternoon, Argüelles Morán’s wife, Yolanda Vera Nerey, and a Catholic Church spokesman confirmed the journalist’s imminent release, The Associated Press reported; he returned to his home in central Cuba Friday night, news reports said. In a phone interview with CPJ today, Argüelles Morán, formerly the director of the independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes in the central province of Ciego de Ávila, said he can be arrested again if he violates the conditions of his release. The journalist signaled his intention to continue his pro-democracy work in Cuba, but said he wasn’t sure yet whether he would start up his agency again. “I will continue my fight even if this means I will return to prison,” he told CPJ. “And I will do it here in Cuba, the country that I love.”

“We are relieved Pedro Argüelles Morán has finally been released, but are concerned that his freedom comes with strings attached,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on the Cuban authorities to remove all conditions from the release of Argüelles Morán and his colleagues and to allow Cuban journalists to report the news without interference.”

Argüelles Morán was sentenced in April 2003 to 20 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy. At the time of his release, he was being held at the Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife told CPJ. She said her husband suffered from bone and respiratory ailments and cataracts in both eyes. The journalist told CPJ today that he urgently needed cataract surgery.

Argüelles Morán’s release comes two weeks before the eight-year anniversary of the massive crackdown on dissent that resulted in the arrest of 75 dissidents, 29 of them independent journalists, known as the Black Spring. He was freed as part of a July 7, 2010, agreement brokered by the Catholic Church for Cuban authorities to release the remaining 52 Black Spring detainees “within three to four months,” the church said in a statement issued that day. 

Argüelles Morán, 62, is the third journalist of the Black Spring detainees to be permitted to remain in Cuba after rejecting exile to Spain as a condition for his release. Journalists Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez and Iván Hernández Carrillo were freed on parole in February and have rejoined their families in Cuba. Another 17 reporters released were flown immediately to Spain. (One has relocated to Chile and two have relocated to the U.S.) 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.

With Argüelles Morán’s release, one journalist remains imprisoned in Cuba. Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the independent news agency Havana Press, was sentenced in May 2009 to three years in prison on charges of “disrespect” and distribution of enemy propaganda. According to his colleague, Roberto De Jesús Guerra, Du Bouchet Hernández has faced appalling prison conditions, including poor food and overflowing wastewater.

Click here to read first-person stories from formerly imprisoned Cuban journalists in CPJ’s blog series “After the Black Spring.”