Reporters Without Borders today called on the Cuban authorities to allow five representatives of the Women in White movement of wives and mothers of imprisoned dissidents to travel to Strasbourg to receive the European parliament’s Sakharov prize for human rights, of which they are this year’s co-winners along with Reporters Without Borders and Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim.
The five, Miriam Leiva, Laura Pollán, Loida Valdés, Berta Soler and Julia Núñez, should have boarded a flight from Havana on the night of 11 December but were unable to do so because they lacked the required official permission to leave Cuba. They still hope to be able to leave tonight in order to attend Wednesday’s award ceremony.
“As a member of the United Nations, Cuba is required to respect the article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“At the same time, the Women in White are already the winners of the Sakharov prize and their struggle had already achieved international recognition and legitimacy, so the regime is wrong to imagine it can hide this by preventing them from going to receive the prize,” the press freedom organisation added.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Pollán as saying: “The scandal will be all the greater if the prize stays there. I think it is worse for the government not to let us go.”
The Women White was formed in early 2004 by wives and mothers of the dissidents who were arrested and jailed in the crackdown of spring 2003. Of the five who are supposed to travel to Strasbourg, four are the wives of independent journalists who were arrested in this crackdown. Of the 27 journalists who were jailed at that time, 20 are still in prison.
Leiva is the wife of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was released on 29 November 2004 after 20 months in prison. Pollán is the wife of Hector Maseda Gutiérrez of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency. Valdés is the wife of Alfredo Felipe Fuentes of the Sociedad Manuel Marquez Sterling journalism school, which was founded by Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who is also in prison. Núñez is the wife of Juan Adolfo Fernández Sainz of the Patria news agency. Gutiérrez, Fuentes and Fernández are serving sentences of 20, 26 and 15 years respectively.