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Cuba29 November 2004

Authorities let independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe go home

Reporters Without Borders welcomed Oscar Espinosa Chepe’s release today after 20 months in prison and voiced the hope that the Cuban authorities will soon free other journalists including Raúl Rivero.

"This is an enormous relief for his wife and mother who, ever since his arrest, have fought tirelessly for his release in the ’Women in White’ group of wives of detained dissidents," the press freedom organisation said.

"We reiterate our call to the Cuban authorities to release all the imprisoned journalists and put an end to the state monopoly of news and information," Reporters Without Borders said, urging the international community to maintain its campaign for their release.

"We hope the recent transfer of six journalists, including Raúl Rivero, and about 10 other dissidents to Havana’s Combinado del Este prison is a sign they will be released soon," the organisation added, noting that "Cuba, with 25 journalists still detained, is the world’s biggest prison for the press after China with 26 detained."

Espinosa Chepe was released under a special permission issued for health reasons in which he is allowed home but remains under a form of house arrest. Reached by Reporters Without Borders, he said he did not know he was to be freed until the last moment. He stressed that it was a conditional release and that he would be re-arrested if he started working as a journalist again.

"Today I hope the other dissidents will be freed because they committed no crime, and I want to thank all those who campaigned for our release," he said.

His wife , Miriam Leiva, went this morning to the Combinado del Este prison hospital for a visit planned for his 64th birthday, which is today. "When I arrived, they told him to gather all his belongings. Then a doctor came and read us a list of all the illnesses he has had since his arrest. Then they told us he would be allowed home... for health reasons." Both Espinosa Chepe and his wife thanked the European Union and the news media for campaigning for his release.

Espinosa Chepe was arrested on 19 March 2003 and was sentenced the following month to 20 years in prison under law 99 on "protecting Cuba’s independence and economy." For more about his arrest, trial and imprisonment

Raúl Rivero’s wife, Blanca Reyes, told Reporters Without Borders today she received a phone call from her husband three days ago shortly after his transfer to the Combinado del Este prison infirmary. He told her he had been given medical tests and was getting better treatment, including better food. Reyes was told she would be able to visit him by 1 December at the latest.

Rivero is part of a group of at least 17 political prisoners - all arrested in March 2003 - who have been transferred to the Combinado del Este prison in the past few days for the declared purpose of undergoing medical tests. The group includes five other journalists: Jorge Olivera Castillo, José Ubaldo Izquierdo, Omar Ruiz Hernández, Pablo Pacheco Ávila and Pedro Argüelles Morán. Six of the 17 have already been released.

A total of 27 journalists and some 50 other dissidents were rounded up in March 2003 and given summary trials in which they received sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for "actions against the state’s independence" or "against Cuba’s independence and economy." The journalists were for the most part accused of playing into the hands of the United States by writing articles with a different viewpoint from that offered in the official press. Two were already allowed home under similar permits in June.

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