Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today that two independent Cuban journalists, Carlos Brizuela Yera and Léster Téllez Castro, might soon be given jail sentences of five and six years for subversion.
"If the two journalists are convicted, it would bring to three the number of journalists imprisoned in Cuba for this reason. Only a few dictatorships in the world still use this offence as a reason for imprisonment," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro calling for their immediate and unconditional release and the dropping of legal action against them.
Ménard noted that Cuba was "the only country in Latin America where journalists are still formally imprisoned." The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Abid Hussain, said in a January 2000 report that imprisonment for peaceful expression of opinion was a serious violation of human rights.
Reporters Without Borders also called for the release of independent journalists Carlos Alberto Dominguez, imprisoned since February this year, and Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, who was jailed for six years on 28 November 1997 for insulting President Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage.
The government prosecutor’s office in the central province of Ciego de Avila has called for a six-year prison term for Téllez Castro, head of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), and five years for Brizuela Yera, who works for the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camaguey (CPIC) agency. According to the website www.cubanet.org, eight human rights campaigners arrested and beaten along with the two journalists on 4 March this year also face prison terms of between two and seven years.
All are accused of "insulting" President Fidel Castro, "disturbing public order" and "refusing to obey orders." The date for their trial has not yet been announced.
The two journalists were arrested on their way to visit Jesús Alvarez Castillo, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Ciego de Avila province, who had been hospitalised after being beaten up the same day by police. Téllez Castro is being held at Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila and Brizuela Yera at a detention centre in the eastern province of Holguín. Both have smuggled out reports complaining about bad prison conditions.
Domínguez, of the independent news agency Cuba Verdad, was arrested by four state security officials at his home last 23 February. He has reportedly been charged with "disturbing public order" and "refusing to obey orders."
Requests by Arévalo Padrón, founder of the independent news agency Linea Sur Press, for parole have been rejected several times, though he has theoretically had a right to it since October 2000, when he had served half his sentence.
Only government-controlled media are permitted in Cuba. Because they cannot publish in their own country, about 100 independent journalists rely on Cuban exile organisations in the United States to put out their articles, mostly on Internet websites. Last year, about 30 journalists were arrested and nearly 100 acts of intimidation against journalists were counted by Reporters Without Borders. About 50 independent journalists have been forced into exile abroad since 1995. President Castro is on Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide list of 42 "predators of press freedom."