Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez

Journalists face arrest, intimidation during Party Congress

New York, April 20, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a string of recent arrests of journalists from the Havana-based news outlet Centro de Información Hablemos Press, preventing them from reporting on the Communist Party Congress held in Havana this week. CPJ called on the Cuban government to cease its persistent harassment of independent journalists and allow them to report freely.

In the past three weeks, at least 10 correspondents from Hablemos Press, known for its reporting on human rights and opposition activities, have been detained in police stations, put under house arrest or threatened with arrest. One journalist, Enyor Díaz Allen, was assaulted by government supporters and then held by police for four days. The arrests coincide with the Sixth Communist Party Congress, the first in 14 years, which began in Havana on Saturday.

“This spike in short-term arrests of journalists during the Communist Party Congress is evidence of the Cuban government’s unchanged attitude toward the independent press, despite the releases of imprisoned journalists in recent months,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Cuban officials to stop detaining and harassing  journalists.”

Despite the landmark release this month of Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, the last journalist jailed in Cuba, CPJ and local human rights organizations have observed an increase in instances of low-intensity persecution–short-term detentions, house arrests, smear campaigns, and intimidation–of members of Cuba’s independent press. 

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez
Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez

Hablemos Press director Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez told CPJ in an interview Tuesday that the timing of the arrests was obvious. “The regime is afraid that there will be a popular uprising during the Party Congress and wants to prevent journalists from reporting on what’s going on,” Guerra said.

According to CPJ research, 10 journalists from Hablemos Press have faced arrest and intimidation in the past three weeks:

–Guantánamo correspondent Enyor Díaz Allen, 28, was arrested Friday, along with pro-democracy activist Yoandris Beltrán Gamboa, and held until Tuesday afternoon, Díaz told CPJ. As he was walking Friday evening, two unidentified men approached Díaz shouting pro-Castro slogans and attacked him. Díaz defended himself but sustained a fractured arm and wounds requiring stitches on his head. About 20 minutes into the attack, police agents arrived and broke up the fight. The police took Díaz to the hospital. After Díaz’s wounds were treated, state security agents took him to the Parque 24 police station and held him for four days. Díaz was charged with minor assault, and his attackers walked free, Guerra said.

Díaz has reported on police abuses, education issues, and opposition activities in Guantánamo province and is also a member of the youth democracy movement. According to Guerra, a common tactic used by Cuban authorities to intimidate critics is have government supporters attack dissidents who are later arrested. Díaz told CPJ that he believes the attack was related to his reporting.

–Raúl Arias Márquez and Elier Muir Ávila, correspondents in Morón and Ciego de Ávila provinces, were detained and threatened on April 5 and again on April 6 by police and state security agents at Márquez’s home, where the journalists frequently meet. Both have been working for Hablemos Press for about two months and had reported on a student brawl that left two dead.

–On March 31, Hablemos Press correspondent Idalberto Acuña Carabeo was arrested at his home in Havana by state security agents demanding he hand over photos he took while covering a labor protest hours before. When Acuña refused to comply, he was taken to a local police station, interrogated and threatened for 24 hours, Hablemos Press reported.

–Luis Roberto Arcia Rodríguez, Hablemos Press correspondent in Mayabeque province, was put under house arrest in his home in San Jose de las Lajas on April 16 and held there for 12 hours to prevent him from traveling to Havana to meet with other journalists during the communist congress, Guerra said. According to Guerra, eight state security and police agents prevented the reporter from leaving his home.

–Sandra Guerra Pérez, Hablemos Press correspondent in Melena del Sur, was put under house arrest by more than 20 police and security agents on April 16 who blocked her from leaving her house until the evening of April 18. She had been reporting on a series of sugar cane field fires in the area as well as on the conversion of abandoned schools in the countryside to prisons. According to Roberto Guerra, the house arrest was intended to keep Sandra Guerra from traveling to Havana during the Party Congress.

–On April 15, two state security agents appeared at Hablemos Press’s headquarters in central Havana and warned four journalists including Roberto Guerra that they would be arrested if they left their homes during the Party Congress. Guerra was also warned that he could face imprisonment for the videos that he has posted on Hablemos Press’s Web site that show victims of official repression.