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Cuba22 August 2007

Independent journalist freed a year ago gets new prison sentence for “illicitly” taking handkerchief signed by Fidel Castro

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today on learning that Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, an independent journalist who was released in August 2006 after spending a year in prison, was given another jail term by a Havana court on 15 August for allegedly stealing a handkerchief signed by Fidel Castro from an elderly woman who was once a pro-Castro activist.

“We are outraged by the way the authorities continue to persecute Du Bouchet,” the press freedom organisation said. “Imposing a heavy sentence on him for the supposed theft of a handkerchief is grotesque and disgraceful. His trial was as summary as the one in 2005, and relied on evidence that could well have been obtained under threat. We call for him to be acquitted on appeal.”

A municipal court in Plaza (a district of Havana) sentenced Du Bouchet on 15 August to two years in prison plus an additional two years of work in a prison environment and another two years under judicial control for “illicitly” taking a signed handkerchief which Castro gave in 1957 to María Encarnación González Guerra, an active member of the then-underground 26 of July Movement (a pro-Castro movement created four years earlier).

Du Bouchet insists that González gave him the handkerchief and believes the political police pressured her to testify against him. For the time being he remains free pending the outcome of the appeal he has filed.

A reporter for the Havana Press agency, Du Bouchet was sentenced on 9 August 2005 to a year in prison for “civil disobedience” and “resisting the authorities” at the time of his arrest. The trial was conducted in a summary fashion and he was not defended by a lawyer.

Meanwhile, cases of intimidation of journalists and those close to them are on the increase. Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, a correspondent for the Payolibre and Nueva Prensa Cubana websites and the US government-funded Radio Martí, recently reported that the political police are constantly pressuring his relatives to stop providing him with accommodation.

Released in May after 22 months in prison (of which 19 without trial), Guerra has health problems as a result of the hunger strikes he staged in prison and he fears he could end up homeless if his relatives yield to the pressure. He has threatened to go on hunger strike again in protest.

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