Reporters Without Borders today condemned a wave of arrests of dissidents and journalists yesterday as a peaceful protest in support of political prisoners was being prepared in front of the justice ministry in Havana.
Six journalists among the 30 or so people arrested were released after 24 hours, which was welcomed by the worldwide press freedom organisation. They were freelance Idania Yanes Contreras, Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, correspondent for the websites Payolibre and Nueva Prensa Cubana and also Radio Martí, Alvaro Yero Felipe and Belinda Salas Tapanes, de la Agencia Libre Asociada (ALAS), and Yoel Espinosa Medrano and Félix Reyes Gutiérrez, of the independent news agency Cubanacán Press, founded by Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, winner of the 2006 Reporters Without Borders Cyber-Freedoms Prize.
“Some of the arrested dissidents were immediately released, but this crackdown is a reminder of the ‘black spring’ of March 2003,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While all eyes were on the start of the war in Iraq, the Cuban government ordered a round-up of 90 dissidents, 75 of them (including 20 journalists) still in prison.”
“Is the regime in Havana competing with the one in Rangoon, where a military crackdown has been going on for several days which is holding the attention of the international community?” it asked; noting that Cuba has 250 people in prison for political reasons.
Marta Beatriz Roque, president of the dissident Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, and six other people tried yesterday to hand over a letter about the plight of political prisoners to justice minister Maria Esther Reus at the ministry in the Vedado district of the capital. The dissident leader said the protestors would stay outside the ministry until they got a response. State security police then arrested Roque and her companions and bundled them into a bus to return them to their homes. Laura Pollán Toledo, wife of Hector Maseda Gutiérrez, co-founder of the agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, imprisoned since March 2003, was among those arrested.
Agence France-Presse reported that people who had decided to join the demonstration in front of the ministry, both in Havana and in the central province of Santa Clara, where Cubanacán Press is based, were also picked up.
Guerra Pérez was arrested in similar circumstances on 13 July 2005, just before a dissident demonstration. He was imprisoned for 19 months without trial, regularly beaten by guards and several times needed hospital treatment. He was sentenced on 27 February this year (see press release) to 22 months in prison for “”disturbing public order” and released on 9 May (see press release).