Four years after the March 2003 crackdown, Cuba still has 270 prisoners of conscience including 25 journalists, which makes the island the world’s second biggest prisoner for the press after China, Reporters Without Borders said today, after staging a protest at Cuba’s stand in the international tourism fair in Paris.
The human rights situation has shown no improvement since Fidel Castro officially transferred power to his brother Raúl on 31 July of last year. In fact the repression has worsened since the autumn, with an increase in attacks, searches and arrests of independent journalists.
Some 30 Reporters Without Borders activists demonstrated today in front of Cuba’s stand at the tourism fair in Paris, unfurling banners, putting up posters and demanding the release of the 25 journalists detained in Cuba. Wearing black T-shirts with the words “Cuba = prison,” they covered the stand with adhesive black stripes symbolising the bars of a prison. Reporters Without Borders also demonstrated in front of the Tunisian and Egyptian stands.
Whether or not they are imprisoned, Cuba’s independent journalists have been having a particularly trying March. Twenty of them, who have been held ever since the March 2003 “Black Spring” and who are serving jail terms ranging from 14 to 27 years, continue to be mistreated by their guards and their health has suffered.
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO), a small independent news agency, is regularly beaten by the guards at Kilo 8 prison in the central city of Camagüey. Along with 17 other detainees, he began a hunger strike on 7 March in protest against prison conditions and to draw attention to his state of health, and to that of two of his colleagues, Alfredo Manuel Pulido López of the El Mayor news agency and Normando Hernández González, the head of the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (CPIC). Hernández, who is in Camagüey’s Kilo 7 prison, has tuberculosis but is not receiving the necessary treatment. He has been refusing to take food since 4 March.
Laura Pollán Toledo complained to the interior ministry on 7 March about the way her 64-year-old husband, Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez, the co-founder of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, was transferred from his prison in the western town of Agüica to a hospital where he was to be operated. Although extremely weak, he was left in a punishment cell for three hours and was then shackled for the transfer. The order for this to be done was given by Capt. Emilio Cruz Rodríguez, who was accused of “sadism” by Pollán.
Ricardo González Alfonso, the editor of the magazine De Cuba and Reporters Without Borders’ Cuba correspondent, is still in the recovery ward of the military hospital at Havana’s Combinado del Este prison, after undergoing three operations in December 2005. He is serving a 20-year sentence which he received in 2003.
Ramón Velázquez Toranso of the Libertad new agency, who has been detained since 23 January of this year, was transferred to a forced-labour camp in the eastern province of Las Tunas on 3 March. When his wife and daughter asked why he had been transferred, they were told it was “on the orders of State Security.” He is serving a three-year prison sentence for being a “pre-criminal social danger.”
Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia of the Jóvenes sin Censura news agency was arrested by State Security on 2 March as he was going with some other young people to an exhibition in Havana. Officials threatened him with imprisonment before letting him go. He was held for 24 hours last September, and was detained again from 4 to 12 December at State Security headquarters.
Cubanacán Press editor Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France Cyber-Freedom laureate in 2006, was assaulted on 2 March in Santa Clara by State Security officials led by Lt. Yuniel Monteagudo Reina and four members of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. He was briefly held in a police station after the attack, which left him with bruises to the head and face.