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Cuba8 November 2006

Santiago court sentences independent journalist to two years of house arrest

Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO), an independent news agency, was sentenced by a court in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba on 6 November to two years of house arrest for being a “danger to society.” Espinosa was brought before the court after being held for 12 days at Department 21 of the state security police.

The court also ordered Espinosa to get a state job and banned him from continuing his journalistic activities on pain of being sent to prison. Espinosa worked as a nurse until three months ago when he was fired because of his dissident views.

Reporters Without Borders called for the measures to be lifted, describing them “arbitrary.” The organisation also voiced its support for the APLO and its journalists.

07.11.06 - Independent journalist held on “social danger” charge, others harassed

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez, a journalist with the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental independent news agency, who has been held by the state security police in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba since 25 October. He will probably be jailed as a “danger to society,” making him the 25th journalist currently imprisoned in Cuba.

The press freedom organisation also condemned a recent wave of other cases of independent journalists being harassed by Cuba’s political police.

“Espinosa is likely to get a prison sentence for being a ‘danger to society,’ in other words, not for any crime he has supposedly committed but for the threat he supposedly represents,” Reporters Without Borders said. “His case is a new example of the absurdity of a judicial system that can convict a person without any grounds.”

The organisation added: “We call for his immediate release and an end to the repressive hysteria to which other journalists have also fallen victim.”

The Miami-based news website Cubanet said Espinosa is being held in an isolation cell at Department 21 of the Cuban state security police in Santiago de Cuba pending trial on a charge of being a “danger to society” - a Cuban criminal code provision under which people can be arrested, tried and convicted for the danger they supposedly pose rather than what they have actually done.

Harassment of the independent press has increased since the latter part of October. In one of the most recent cases, Cubanet correspondent Roberto Santana Rodríguez was arrested with two opposition activists on 2 November in Havana as they left the US Interests Section building, where they had gone to surf the Internet.

Santana was released after his journalistic material was confiscated. The state security police previously summoned him for questioning on 13 February and ordered him to put a stop to his journalistic activities.

Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia, a 21-year-old journalist working for the Jóvenes sin Censura independent news agency, was expelled by Rapid Response Brigade paramilitaries on 31 October from the eastern town of Antilla, where he was born, for “speaking ill of Antilla on Radio Martí,” a US-government radio station based in the Miami area that broadcasts to Cuba.

He was forcibly escorted out of the town, his tape-recorder and 105 convertible pesos (105 dollars) were taken from him, and he was told he was banned from ever coming back. Rodríguez was previously arrested on 15 September and held for 48 hours by the political police in Havana, where he and his family now live since leaving Antilla. On 26 October, state security police forced their way into the home of Lamasiel Gutiérrez Romero, the correspondent of the Nueva Prensa Cubana news website, in Nueva Gerona, on the western Isla de la Juventud, told her she was forbidden to leave her home and threatened her with imprisonment if she continues her journalistic work.

Gutiérrez was already imprisoned for five months, from October 2005 to March 2006, for “resisting the authorities and civil disobedience.” She has been under virtual house arrest since leaving prison because she has been constantly harassed by the Rapid Response Brigades.

A state security collaborator, Yosvany Dueñas Rivero, went to the home of independent journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón in the central province of Cienfuegos on 21 October and told him a state security agent nicknamed Benavides had been ordered to eliminate him on the basis of trumped-up charges.

Arévalo was given a six-year prison sentence in November 1997 for “insulting” the authorities because he called President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage “liars” on the air on Radio Martí. He was released in November 2003 on completing his sentence.

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