Reporters Without Borders called today on Cuba’s acting leader, Raul Castro, to immediately and inconditionally release all the country’s independent journalists who are in prison.
“We are waiting for a gesture of clemency towards the 23 journalists who have been in jail since the crackdown in 2003,” it said. “They are living in dirty cells with contaminated water, are ill-treated and visits to them are restricted. They are not getting proper medical care and the health of most of them is deteriorating each day.
“It is urgent for the new head of government to act. Cuba is the world’s second biggest prison for journalists. Harassment and threats of jail must also stop so the freedom to report and think differently from the government can be restored,” it said.
Hounding of journalists has continued in the week since President Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother because of illness. Ahmed Rodríguez, 21, who works in Havana for the news agency Jovenes sin Censura, was harassed with his family all night long on 4 August by officials and about 60 government activists who surrounded his house, stuck political posters on the walls and stopped family members and others coming or going.
Negotiations were needed for the journalist’s 12-year-old sister to be allowed to go and buy bread. The activists insulted Rodríguez about his work and he angered them by shouting back “Long live human rights!” His sister vomited in fright and his mother became ill.
Independent journalist Alicia Niobis Ortis Salmón, of the Cuban Liberal Party, was arrested by police on 4 August, interrogated by the head of state security, warned to stop working as an independent journalist and told she was being watched and could be prosecuted.
The conditions of detention of some jailed independent journalists have deteriorated, including for Oscar Mario González, of the Grupo de Trabajo agency, who has been held without trial for the past year and is in very bad health, with blood in his urine for several days but still not allowed to see a doctor or take any medicine.
Ricardo González Alfonso, founder of the magazine De Cuba and correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, who has been in jail since March 2003, is weak after an urgent operation to remove an abdominal granuloma caused by an earlier gall-bladder operation botched when surgeons closed the excision wound on the outside but not the inside.
Guillermo Fariñas, head of the Cubanacán Press agency, is near death since a hunger-strike he began on 31 January to obtain Internet access has now had irreversible effects on some of his organs. He has intercostal nephritis and strong pain attacks prevent him from sleeping.
Meanwhile the government released journalist Santiago Albert DuBouchet Hernández, head of the Noticia Habana Press agency, on 5 August at the end of his sentence after a year and seven days in prison. He had been convicted of alleged “resistance” by the people’s court in the southeastern town of Artemisa.
Updates on all the 23 prisoners can be found on the Reporters Without Borders website: www.rsf.org