Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release today of independent journalist Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández after 27 months in prison. One of the 74 dissidents who was arrested in a major crackdown in the spring of 2003, Mayo was given a conditional release on health grounds.
“We are delighted to learn that he is free and reunited with his loved-ones, even if his release is only conditional,” the press freedom organisation said. “We hope the Cuban authorities will show the same clemency towards the other dissidents, including 24 journalists, who are still in prison and whose release is warranted by their innocence, as well as their state of health.”
Mayo was arrested on 19 March 2003 along with 26 other journalists who were victims of the “black spring.” He was tried on 3 April 2003, found guilty of endangering “the independence and territorial integrity of the state” under article 91of the Cuban criminal code, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Aged 41, he has been held in three prisons in the eastern province of Holguín, in the southeastern province of Santiago de Cuba and finally in the eastern province of Camagüey, where he is from. At times he has been subjected to the harshest prison regimes and has often been banned from receiving visits.
His hunger strikes, including the most recent one in July, aggravated an already serious deterioration in his state of health brought on by prison conditions. His ailments include glaucoma in the left eye, high blood pressure, pulmonary emphysema and prostate inflammation, as well as acute depression.
Mayo is the seventh of the journalists imprisoned in 2003 to be freed for health reasons. His permission to leave prison and live at home is valid for one year.
Mayo began working as an independent journalist in 2000, when he joined the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (CPIC), an independent news agency, after being fired from his job as a lawyer because of his dissident views. A year leader he founded his own agency, called the Félix Varela agency, sending reports to the Miami-based website Nuevaprensacubana.org and to the Miami-based radio station Radio Martí.
A few hours after Mayo Hernández was freed, Anna Bikont, of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, and a Swiss journalist, Nelly Norton, were arrested in the provinces after meeting an opposition activist. The two women were taken to Havana and were due to be deported on 2 December.