Edel José García Díaz yesterday became the third independent journalist to be released this week, following Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Raúl Rivero. Officially, they are all now under a form of house arrest after being allowed home for health reasons. García has a digestive ailment, high blood pressure and problems with his sight.
The founder and editor of the Centro Norte del País independent news agency, García was arrested at his Havana home on 18 March 2003 and sentenced to 15 years in prison under law 88 on collaboration with the United States.
He was accused of contributing to the US congress-funded Radio Martí and websites based in Florida, and working with other independent journalists to produce a newsletter in Cuba called Expresión Libre. Two undercover agents who had posed as dissident journalists were witnesses for the prosecution at his trial. Aged 59 and the holder of a philology degree, García has been an independent journalists for years. A state official had already pressured him in 1997 in an attempt to get him to give up his journalistic work.
30.11.2004 - Reporters Without Borders hails Raúl Rivero’s release and calls on regime to free other journalists
Reporters Without Borders said today it was "delighted" at the release from prison today of Cuban journalist Raúl Rivero, calling it "the end of a huge injustice towards a renowned journalist and writer" and his family.
It repeated its call for the release of 24 other journalists detained in Cuba since spring last year. "Rivero’s release is great news for democrats everywhere, but it must not be forgotten that Cuba’s human rights record remains worse than it was before his arrest and that the regime still controls the media and the country with an iron hand," it said.
Rivero was arrested in March last year along with 74 other dissidents, 26 of them journalists. Over 60 of them are still in prison and more than 300 political prisoners in all are being held in Cuba.
The worldwide press freedom organisation called on the Cuban government to embark on "a true path towards democracy" by giving up its monopoly of news. It urged the European Union to maintain ties with Cuban dissidents and keep its relations with Havana conditional on improving human rights and political freedoms and respecting democratic pluralism.
Rivero’s wife Blanca Reyes told her husband had been officially freed for health reasons, according to the Associated Press news agency. He was transferred on 26 November to the Combinado del Este prison hospital in Havana, along with at least 16 other dissidents, two of whom were freed three days later. Another journalist, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, already hospitalised at Combinado del Este, was freed yesterday.
Rivero was arrested on 20 March last year and sentenced on 4 April to 20 years in prison after a hasty trial for "undermining national independence and territorial unity." He was accused of writing "biased" articles in foreign publications. "I don’t plot, I write," he told the court.
He was held in the Canaleta maximum security prison at Ciego de Avila (430 km east of Havana), where his health deteriorated and he lost nearly 40 kg.
Eleven of the 75 dissidents and journalists arrested in March last year have been freed so far - seven between April and July this year and four in the past few days.
Raúl Rivero, winner of the 1997 Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award
Born in Morón (Camagüey) in 1945, Raúl Rivero used to be a journalist with the official news agency Prensa Latina and was its Moscow correspondent from 1973 to 1976. He resigned from UNEAC, the official association of Cuban journalists and writers in 1989. He broke completely with the regime in 1991 when he signed "The letter of 10 intellectuals" which called on President Fidel Castro to free prisoners of conscience and to reform the socialist regime. He is the only one of the 10 signatories who is still in Cuba.
He created Cuba Press, one of the first independent news agencies, in September 1995. It has never been recognised by the government. He received the Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award in 1997 for his efforts on behalf of press freedom in Cuba. He was last arrested was on 9 March 1999, the date of the last major wave of arrests. It came just over a year after the pope’s visit in January 1998 and was the government’s way of showing there would be no liberalization.
Since then, his international reputation had seem to protect him from the everyday harassment to which his colleagues are exposed. However, the government never granted him a temporary exit visa so that he could take advantage of invitations to attend events abroad. The only permission it was prepared to give him was for a definitive departure with no return. Rivero had always refused this.
For more on Rivero’s arrest, trial and prison conditions