An independent Cuban blogger and activist was held in police custody for five days after attempting to cover a protest by the prominent dissident group, Ladies in White, according to press reports. Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca told CPJ he was apprehended by a group of men in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, on March 20, 2016, who beat him with their fists, handcuffed him, and took him to a police station.
Valle Roca, who runs the blog Yurielconteston (Yuri the Arguer) and has a YouTube channel, told CPJ after his release on March 24, 2016, that he was detained for allegedly attacking an official. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to three years. The blogger, who regularly attends the protests as a journalist and an activist, told CPJ he does not face charges, but has been warned that he could face legal action if he is arrested again.
According to press reports citing witnesses, when Valle Roca refused to show a man who claimed to be a plainclothes agent his identification unless the officer also showed his identification, the journalist was beaten and fell to the ground. Valle Roca told CPJ he was unsure if the men who handcuffed him and took him to a police station were official state agents or activists linked to the state, because they refused to show him any identification.
Aliuska Gómez García, a member of the Ladies in White group who witnessed Valle Roca being taken away, told CPJ, “He was thrown to the ground by at least two people, and then forced up. I could see blood on his face.” A video published in USA Today March 20 shows at least two men holding Valle Roca on the ground while he is handcuffed, before he is forced into a green car. The footage shows the journalist’s bloodied face.
Miriam Herrera Calvo, an independent journalist and the coordinator of the Commission for Assistance to Journalists, which provides support to reporters and their families, told CPJ that rights activists and family members spent three days calling hospitals and police stations to try to find Valle Roca. He was eventually located in Santiago de las Vegas police station, in the Boyeros neighborhood of Havana, she said.
Valle Roca’s arrest took place the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba, the first visit by a sitting U.S. president since 1928. Local rights groups have complained that human rights activists and political dissidents were detained and harassed in the days leading up to Obama’s visit, according to press reports. When asked during a March 21, 2016 news conference why dissidents and human rights activists are in Cuban jails, Raúl Castro told CNN, “Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately.”
This is not the first the time Valle Roca has been detained. In June 2015, the blogger told the independent online Cuban newspaper 14ymedio he has been beaten while covering the Ladies in White protests, and that earlier that month he was briefly detained.
Despite recent economic and political reforms, Cuba remains a restrictive nation for the press, according to CPJ research. In the past five years the press landscape has experienced a dramatic change, but Cuban authorities continue to exercise tight control over the media and independent journalists continue to face harassment. Cuba–one of CPJ’s 10 most censored countries–has moved away from extended imprisonment of journalists. Although brief detentions and summons are still common, most political detainees are released within a day, human right activists told CPJ.