Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez

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Maseda Gutiérrez was arrested in the March 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the independent press. He was charged under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy. In a closed-door summary trial the following month, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

An engineer with a graduate degree in nuclear physics, Maseda Gutiérrez, 67, began working as an independent journalist in 1995 and was a founding member of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, according to his wife, Laura Pollán Toledo. In 2008, he was awarded CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.

Although the government released a number of political prisoners in 2010, Maseda Gutiérrez was among four Cuban journalists still in prison when CPJ conducted its annual census on December 1. Three had been swept up in the 2003 crackdown and a fourth was arrested in 2009.

In July 2010, the Catholic Church brokered an agreement with Cuban authorities to release 52 political prisoners, including 20 journalists, who were arrested during the 2003 crackdown. Spanish government officials also participated in the talks. The Cuban government did not explicitly demand that freed prisoners leave the country as a condition of release, but it’s clear that is what authorities wanted: All 17 of the reporters released as of December 1 were immediately exiled to Spain. (One later relocated to Chile.)

The remaining detainees from the 2003 crackdown expressed their desire to stay in Cuba upon release, the reporters’ families told CPJ. A story published in September by the Madrid-based daily El País quoted Spanish officials as saying that imprisoned reporters who wanted to stay in Cuba upon release would be freed through a parole program. The Cuban government, however, did not confirm those plans.

After July talks between the government and the Catholic Church, Maseda Gutiérrez was transferred from a prison in western Matanzas province, a four-hour bus ride from his home in Havana City, to the 15-80 Prison in Havana province, a one-hour ride from his home, his wife said. She said her husband suffered from high blood pressure and skin ailments.