State security agents arrested Martínez Arias near José Martí International Airport in Havana where he was reporting on two tons of medicine and medical equipment that had been damaged, according to CPJ sources and news reports. Martínez Arias, a reporter with the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was taken to a police station in Havana where he was interrogated and beaten, Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, the organization’s director, told CPJ.
According to Guerra Pérez, Martínez Arias was accused of contempt under Cuba’s archaic desacato or disrespect laws for shouting anti-Castro slogans after he was harassed by authorities. Article 144.1 of the Cuban criminal code establishes that those who threaten, defame, insult, or offend the dignity of a public official can be jailed for up to three years.
On September 27, Martínez Arias was transferred to the Valle Grande Prison in the town of La Lisa, Havana province, Guerra Pérez told CPJ. The journalist began a hunger strike in November, according to Hablemos Press. Two people recently released from jail told Hablemos Press that Martínez Arias had been placed in solitary confinement.
At the time of his arrest Martínez Arias was looking into reasons why a shipment of medicine and medical equipment reportedly donated by the World Health Organization had been left to go bad, according to Guerra Pérez and news reports.
Martínez Arias, who has worked for the news agency since 2009, has reported on sensitive issues such as an outbreak of cholera in Granma province, according to CPJ sources and news reports. Prominent human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that Martínez Arias was arrested for his journalistic work.
Martínez Arias has often been harassed by authorities for his reporting, Guerra Pérez said. In 2011, CPJ documented a string of arrests of journalists from Centro de Información Hablemos Press, which prevented them from reporting on the Communist Party Congress.