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Cuba17 February 2003

Argentine journalist arrested

Reporters Without Borders protested today against the arrest and secret detention for three days of an Argentine journalist, Fernando Ruiz Parra, who entered Cuba on a tourist visa to report on the significant increase in the number of independent journalists active in the country. It called for his seized equipment to be returned to him. He was freed on 13 February.

"Cuba’s visa policy is simply a device to control news and the image of the country," said the organisation’s secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to interior minister Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra. "It is a violation of the right to ’seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers’ which is guaranteed by article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Human and Civil Rights."

Reporters Without Borders has complained to the Cuban authorities about restrictions on the granting of visas to foreign journalists, which obliges them to work clandestinely and illegally.

Cuban officials said Ruiz Parra, who entered Cuba on 3 February, had been arrested for breaking the immigration law, which requires visiting journalists to have special visas to report in Cuba. Law 88, passed in March 1999, provides for up to eight years in prison for anyone who collaborates with the foreign media.

Ruiz Parra, who also teaches at the Austral University in Buenos Aires, went to the town of Matanzas to interview a journalist, after which his contacts in Cuba and his family heard nothing from him. The car hire firm he rented his car from eventually contacted his family in Argentina and said he was being held by police in Havana.

He was freed on 13 February after three days as a result of the intervention of the Argentine embassy in Havana and expelled from the country. He said all his equipment, including his notes and address book, had been confiscated by police.

Catherine David, of the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, was detained for several hours at Havana airport last October at the end of a visit to report on the human rights situation and dissident activity. She was detained after passing through customs with a friend who was a sculptor and photographer.

All the files on her laptop computer were copied by officials and her audio tapes of interviews with dissidents, all her journalistic documents, the rolls of film she had taken and several books and reports about the human rights situation, were confiscated. Her entire address book was also copied by customs officials. She and her friend were then allowed to leave. Her requests for the return of her belongings have not been answered.

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