Reporters Without Borders demonstrated in support of 23 journalists imprisoned in Cuba at the human rights square in Paris on 1st December 2006, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the start of the cuban Revolution.
Twenty-three cages were placed in Trocadero Square, each holding a masked inmate, clad in prison dress. Each cage bore the journalist’s name, media, sentence and the reasons for their imprisonment.
The demonstration was attended by Cuban exiles, including dissident journalists, and drew journalists from the French and foreign press.
“The 50th anniversary, on 2 December 2006, of the landing in Cuba of the ship Granma, closes five days of celebrations for the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro, forced to hand over to his brother Raúl on 31 July for health reasons. This celebration was due to coincide with his return to power, compromised by his state of health. Whether or not the ‘Líder Máximo’ resumes his role as head of state, Cuba remains the world’s second largest prison for the press,” said the worldwide press freedom organisation.
“Twenty-three journalists are paying with their freedom for having tried to inform the public, outside the control of the state.”
“The Cuban government would earn respect by releasing them, as it did on 20 November by freeing one of their colleagues. We hope that foreign dignitaries, particularly European, invited to the ceremonies in Havana, will relay this request. Cuba, which on 11 September 2006 took over the rotating presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, should fulfil the promises which it made that day in respect of human rights,” the organisation added.
Twenty of the 27 journalists who were arrested in the March 2003 crackdown are still being held in prison, including the Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso. Mostly accused of being “mercenaries in the service of a foreign power”, they were handed down sentences from 14 to 27 years in prison.
Locked in unsanitary cells, frequently alongside common-law prisoners, they suffer daily maltreatment at the hands of their guards. They are deprived of contact with their families and medication their deteriorating state of health demands is rationed. Even the prison medical authorities have said that in most cases the poor health of the prisoners is incompatible with detention. One of them, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta has staged regular hunger strikes for the past eight months in protest at his plight.
Three journalists have in 2005 and 2006 been added to this long list of prisoners: Alberto Gil Triay Casales, Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez and, in May this year, Armando Betancourt. Triay Casales has been officially charged with “disrupting public order” but has not yet been sentenced. The two others are being held without State Security (political police) pressing any charges against them. A fourth journalist, Oscar Mario González Pérez, arrested without reason on 22 July 2005, was released on 20 November 2006 without further explanation. He served one year and four months in prison for nothing.
Finally, the harassment, intimidation and brutality towards the independent press have not in any way diminished during Raúl Castro’s interim four months in power. Journalists left at liberty in Cuba are under kept under surveillance.
On 2 December 1956, the brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara landed in Cuba from exile in Mexico with their fellow rebels on board the yacht Granma. This episode marked the start of the Castro revolution leading to the overthrow two years later of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of this event, Reporters Without Borders points out that, since then, one dictatorship has given way to another and publicly demonstrates its support for the 23 journalists held in Cuban jails for having tried to freely inform the public.
Regularly updated information about the 23 jailed journalists can be found on the Reporters Without Borders’ website.