Reporters Without Borders has welcomed the 18 June release of freelance journalist Carmelo Díaz Fernández, for health reasons, after 15 months in prison.
But the international press freedom organisation pointed out that Fernández "should never have been imprisoned in the first place, because all he did was exercise his right to free expression. We hold the Havana authorities responsible for his state of health," it added.
The organisation strongly condemned the state monopoly on news imposed by the Fidel Castro government and called for the release of the 27 journalists still in prison.
Cuba is, with China, the largest prison in the world for journalists. Castro is slated by Reporters Without Borders as one of the world’s 37 "predators" of press freedom.
Fernández was released, with another dissident who was arrested and sentenced with him in March 2003. The journalist was granted a permission to leave prison equivalent to house arrest, for health reasons. The 67-year-old, who has serious heart problems, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that he hoped to get a visa to emigrate to the United States where some family members already live.
He was arrested overnight on 19 March 2003 during the Cuban "black spring" crackdown that saw 75 opposition figures arrested then sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 28 years. He was sentenced at the beginning of April to 15 years in jail for his trade union and freelance journalism that was held to be "counter-revolutionary". Fernández, who was in good health before his arrest, began to suffer from high blood pressure when he was held while awaiting trial at the headquarters of State Security in Villa Marista.Six months after his sentence an echocardiogram carried out at the insistence of his daughter, herself a doctor, led to the discovery of an abnormality in heart function that required surgery. On 15 December 2003, he was transferred from Guanajay Prison in Havana to the prison hospital of Combinado del Este, in Havana Province.
A Christian activist, Fernández is editor of the Cuban Independent Trade Union Press Agency (APSIC), an executive board member of the Unitary Council of Cuban workers (CUTC) and president of the banned Christian Trade Union, founded in 1995. He devoted himself to the national centre for trade union training and the right to work. He was written numerous articles about Cuban education, economy and society on the sites cubanet.org and cartadecuba.org and is correspondent in Cuba for the Venezuelan magazine Desafios.
A total of eight dissidents have been released since the start of year, two of them journalists. Four of them were from among the group of 75.
Cuba’s "black spring" provoked strong international protest and the European Union reacted by imposing sanctions on the Havana regime.
A Freedom Night was held on 18 June in Strasbourg by the local council, Reporters Without Borders and the collective Solidarity Free Cuba for the release of journalist and poet Raúl Rivero and all Cuban dissidents. Those attending included Cuban writer Zoé Valdès and Spanish author Jorge Semprun.