Following a new crackdown on Cuba’s independent journalists in which several have been arrested, Reporters Without Borders has written to the British government, the current holder of the European Union presidency, expressing concern and asking it to make any softening in the EU stance on Cuba strictly conditional on the release of the independent journalists imprisoned in Cuba.
Text of the letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair:
Dear Prime Minister,
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, would like to express its concern to you about an increase in the Cuban government’s repression of independent journalists despite the fact that the European Council agreed on 13 June to extend the suspension of sanctions against Cuba for a year while at the same time condemning "the measures taken by the Cuban authorities with the aim of limiting freedom of expression and assembly and press freedom."
We would like to remind you that Cuba is currently the world’s second biggest prison for the press. A total of 24 journalists are imprisoned in Cuba and the press freedom situation there is getting worse and worse.
Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Fernández, the editor of the independent Havana Press news agency and a member of the board of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society’s magazine, was sentenced to a year in prison in a summary trial on 9 August for "civil disobedience" and "resisting" the authorities at the time of his arrest while covering unrest in Artemisa (in Havana province) on 6 August. He was not able to have a defence lawyer.
Lamasiel Gutiérrez Romero of the Nueva Prensa Cubana agency was also convicted on 9 August of "civil disobedience" and "resisting" the authorities. She was sentenced to seven months of "conditional freedom."
Reporters Without Borders has registered many other cases of attempts to intimidate independent journalists, but will cite just the two most recent instances here. Lázaro Raúl González’s home was searched without any reason by members of the National Revolutionary Police on 19 August and he was taken to the police station for refusing to surrender his identity document. Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, who has already spent six years in Cuban prisons, was attacked by two members of the armed forces on a motor-cycle on 22 August.
We must also mention the 22 July arrest of Oscar Mario González, who is now waiting trial under the draconian Law 88 and faces up to 20 years in prison.
We are convinced that in these circumstances extending the suspension of sanctions against Cuba for a year would violate the Common Position adopted by the European Union in 1996, which aims to "encourage a process of transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."
We therefore call on you to ensure that, when the European Union’s position on Cuba is next examined, the release of the imprisoned independent journalists is made a basic condition for suspending sanctions. While the Cuba government has made a few symbolic gestures of democratic opening (including letting the Assembly to Promote Civil Society hold a meeting in Havana in May), the situation is far from improving for the independent press, despite the European Union’s diplomatic efforts.
We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.