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Cuba14 May 2002

Reporters Without Borders asks Jimmy Carter to intervene in favour of the release of four imprisoned Cuban journalists

image 220 x 126 (JPEG) On the occasion of Jimmy Carter’s visit to Cuba, from 12 to 17 May 2002, Reporters Without Borders drew the attention of the former President of the United Sates to the press freedom situation in that country. In a letter sent to him, the organisation expressed concern over the cases of four currently imprisoned journalists and asked President Carter to intervene in favour of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, Carlos Alberto Domínguez, Carlos Brizuela Yera and Lester Téllez Castro, during his talks with the Cuban authorities. "Cuba is the only Latin American country where journalists are systematically sent to jail", emphasised Robert Ménard, Reporters Without Borders Secretary General.

The organisation also asked President Carter to step in to promote the end of the State monopoly of information and the legalisation of independent press agencies. The organisation recalled that, "in Cuba, where the Constitution sets forth that ’freedom of expression and of the press is subject to the goals of the socialist society’, only the official press is authorised."

Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, founder of the independent news agency Linea Sur Press, was condemned to six years imprisonment in November 1997 for "insulting" President Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage. In April 1998 he was beaten up by two officers in Ariza prison. Since March 1999 he has been frequently transferred to various labour camps in Cienfuegos province where he has been assigned to weeding and cutting sugar cane. He is now jailed at the "Destacamento 16" camp, which comes under Ariza jail, where he is exempted from forced labour because of poor health. Recently the prison authorities rejected his application for release on parole, to which he has been entitled since October 2000 after having served half his sentence. The authorities say he is not yet "politically re-educated."

Carlos Alberto Domínguez, of the independent news agency Cuba Verdad, who was arrested by four state security officials last 23 February and jailed first in Havana at a centre run by the Technical Investigations Department (DTI), which is part of the interior ministry and notorious for ill-treating prisoners. The health of the journalist, who suffers from migraine and high blood pressure, has deteriorated sharply. The 29th of March, he was transferred to Valle Grande prison (Havana). He has reportedly been charged with "disturbing public order" and "refusing to obey instructions". He is also said to have been accused of helping to organise demonstrations on 24 February to mark the death of four pilots of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue who were shot down by Cuban air force planes on 24 February 1996. Recently, the authorities refused to let him see his lawyer and reduced visits from his family. Domínguez is also head of the Law Institute and a member of the November 30 Democratic Party, two organisations not recognised by the state, and has been arrested many times because of this.

Lester Téllez Castro, who heads the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), and Carlos Brizuela Yera, who works for the Colegio de Periodístas Independientes de Camaguey, were beaten by police on 4 March and then detained along with eight human rights activists. They were arrested on their way to visit Jesús Alvarez Castillo, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Ciego de Avila (central Cuba), who had been hospitalised after being beaten up the same day by police. On 11 March, Téllez Castro was transferred to a prison in Cienfuegos and Brizuela Yera was taken to a detention centre in the eastern province of Holguín. Téllez Castro was transferred again, on 19 April, to Canaleta prison, in Ciego de Avila. Both have complained about bad prison conditions. They are expected to be charged with "insulting behaviour," as well as "causing trouble in a medical facility" and "refusing to obey instructions." The eight human rights activists arrested with them were also taken to detention centres.

Reports Without Borders would also reminds the lack of progress towards press freedom in Cuba. Despite the release of two journalists last year, the situation has in fact got much worse. Only a government-controlled media is allowed. A hundred or so independent journalists, grouped into about 20 press agencies not recognised by the government, are constantly harassed. About 30 journalists were arrested last year and nearly 100 incidents of harassment recorded. As part of a campaign against "ideological deviation," new action was taken to protect the state monopoly of information, notably the removal from roofs of people’s houses of satellite dishes able to pick up foreign TV stations. Reception of foreign radio stations was also jammed. Since the beginning of the year, the sale of computers to private individuals has been banned. Access to the Internet is still strictly controlled.

President Castro has been placed on Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide list of predators of press freedom.

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