Reporters Without Borders protested against the Cuban authorities’ confiscation of the files and photographs of French journalist Catherine David, who had entered Cuba on a tourist visa to report on the human rights situation and dissidents. The organisation also reiterated its complaints about the limitations on press visas granted to foreign journalists, which force many of them to carry out their work in Cuba illegally.
"In reality, the purpose of this visa policy is to control press reporting and Cuba’s image," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to the interior minister, Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra. It constitutes a curb on the freedom to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ménard said, calling for the immediate return of David’s material.
David, who works for the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, was stopped at Havana international airport on 8 October as she was going through customs with a friend who is a sculptor and photographer. They were led to a room in the airport’s basement where their bags were searched thoroughly.
All the files on David’s computer were copied. Her audio tapes containing interviews with dissidents and all her notes were confiscated. All of her rolls of film as well as several books and reports on the human rights situation in Cuba were also seized. The customs officials also copied all of the pages in David’s address book. In Cuba, law 88 of March 1999 provides for up to eight years in prison for any person assisting the foreign news media.
After missing their flight because of the length of the search, the couple was finally able to leave Cuba two days later. David’s requests for the return of her material which she has since then addressed to the Cuban customs agency have so far been in vain.
Recent unsuccessful requests for press visas include that made in late 2001 by a journalist with the Guatemalan daily Siglo XXI, who applied to go to Havana to cover the trial of three Guatemalans facing the death penalty on "terrorism" charges. The Cuban consulate in Guatemala City turned his application down.