Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the conditions of detention of journalist Carlos Brizuela Yera (photo), a contributor to the independent news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (CPIC), who has been imprisoned for the past year and who reported that he was recently beaten by a prison guard.
"There is no justification for such acts of violence," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to President Fidel Castro. "We again call on you to immediately release Carlos Brizuela and the three other journalists who are currently in prison in your country."
Reporters Without Borders also deplored the confiscation at the Havana Cigar Festival of the latest issue of the French quarterly L’Amateur de Cigare, which had a drawing of Che Guevara with Mickey Mouse ears. "We knew the regime could not stand criticism," Ménard commented. "This decision shows that it is also unable to tolerate any kind of joke. It was an absurd and ridiculous decision."
According to a report posted on the news website cubanet.org on 4 March 2003, Brizuela was beaten and insulted by a guard on 31 January in the Holguín province provisional detention centre, in the east of the country. In a letter dated 19 February to CPIC editor Normando Hernández (a copy of which has been obtained by Reporters Without Borders), Brizuela said he was beaten when he demanded the return of a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a Reporters Without Borders report which had been confiscated from him earlier that day. Following this clash, the prison authorities suspended the conjugal visits to which he is entitled for the next two months.
Brizuela was arrested on 4 March 2002 in the central city of Ciego de Ávila with fellow journalist Lester Téllez Castro of the independent Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA) and eight human rights activists during a protest about police violence against a journalist with another independent agency, Cuba Press. On 27 August, the Ciego de Ávila prosecutor requested six years in prison for Téllez and five years for Brizuela for "insulting an official", "public disorder", "resisting arrest" and "disobeying authorities". Two other journalists are currently in prison in Cuba: Bernardo Arévalo Padrón of the independent agency Línea Sur Press, who was sentenced in November 1997 to six years in prison for insulting the president and vice-president, and Carlos Alberto Domínguez, who has been held since 23 February 2002 without being charged.
During the fifth Havana Cigar Festival of 24-28 February, police on 25 February seized the latest issue of the quarterly L’Amateur de Cigare which was on show at the magazine’s own stand. Editor Jean-Paul Kauffman said representatives of the company organising the festival, Habanos SA, had told him that they themselves asked the authorities to confiscate the magazine, which had a drawing of Che with Mickey Mouse ears. Kauffman called the decision "grotesque" and said he was astonished that a company with supposed business aims behaved in such a repressive manner. The festival is held each year in Havana for cigar industry representatives.
In a report issued in December 2002 and entitled "Where news is the exclusive reserve of the State" (read the report), Reporters Without Borders analysed the day-to-day repression to which the independent news media are subjected in Cuba, where only the official press is allowed. In November 1998, the government banned the sale of several foreign publications on the grounds that they violated Cuban ideology and culture.