CPJ condemns jailing of Cuban citizen journalist

New York, April 22, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the imprisonment of Juliet Michelena Díaz, a member of a network of citizen journalists, and calls on Cuban authorities to release her immediately. Michelena was detained on April 7 days after photographing a police operation in Havana, according to news reports and local human rights defenders

“The detention of Juliet Michelena Díaz underscores the persistence of Cuban officials’ intolerance for independent reporting,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on authorities to drop the charges against Michelena and release her immediately.”

Michelena is a contributor to the Cuban Network of Community Journalists (La Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios or RCCC), a group of citizens critical of the government who have been harassed by the authorities in recent months, according to an article by Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, the director of the RCCC. 

Roque told reporters that the arrest stems from an incident on March 26, when Michelena and other contributors to the RCCC witnessed police officers using dogs to break up an altercation between residents in Havana, resulting in one person being bitten, according to the Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald. The participants in the fight and several observers who photographed the incident, including Michelena, were briefly detained, but the journalist was able to hide her photographs before the officers could confiscate them, according to the reports.

Roque alleged that the authorities returned to arrest Michelena nearly two weeks later when they learned she had kept the photographs and was writing a related report, and detained her on charges of threatening a neighbor in an earlier, separate altercation. The article was published three days after her detention on the Florida-based website Cubanet. After publication of the article, authorities escalated the charges against Michelena from threatening the neighbor to the charge of “attack,” which in the Cuban penal code usually refers to an offense against a government official, according to the reports.

The Cuban government has refrained from long-term imprisonments of journalists in recent years, though it has continued its practice of short-term detentions, according to CPJ research. One exception was Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, who spent almost seven months in prison in connection with his coverage of a shipment of medicine and equipment that had been damaged. He was released in April 2013.