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Cuba23 May 2007

Independent journalist completes a year in prison without trial

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call for the release of Armando Betancourt, 45, as he today completed a year in detention without trial. A contributor to the Nueva Prensa Cubana website and founder of the underground magazine El Camagüeyano, he was arrested by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) on 23 May 2006 in the central city of Camagüey.

“Betancourt’s only offense was to work as a journalist,” the press freedom organisation said. “There are no serious grounds for holding him and even the judges have acknowledged inconsistencies in the testimony about the circumstances of his arrest. Given the element of doubt and absence of any charge, Betancourt should be freed.”

Betancourt went to cover the eviction of families squatting at a dump in Camagüey on 23 May 2006 and began to question some of the people present, who were protesting against the heavy-handed police operation. The police approached Betancourt and asked him to identify himself. When he said he was an independent journalist, he was immediately arrested.

On 29 May 2006, he was transferred to the premises of the PNR’s 3rd detachment in Camagüey and placed in solitary confinement. From there, he was transferred to Camagüey’s Cerámica Roja prison on 6 June 2006.

He was brought before the Camagüey municipal court on a charge of “disturbing the peace” on 8 February of this year, but the trial was quickly adjourned after the judges found that the statements provided by witness and members of the State Security (the political police) were “contradictory.”

Cuba continues to be the world’s second biggest prison for the press, with a total of 25 journalists detained. Twenty of them were arrested in the “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003 and are serving jail terms ranging from 14 to 27 years. The other five have been arrested since then. Two of them have never been tried and three are serving prison sentences of between three and four years.

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