Nine more journalists were arrested on 19 and 20 March. They were:
Manuel Vazquez Portal and Hector Maseda, chief editor and journalist of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency (Havana).
Adolfo Fernández Sainz, of the Pátria agency and correspondent in Cuba of the Russian news agency Prima.
Fabio Prieto Llorente, freelance journalist.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who writes for the website cubanet.org.
Julio César Galvez, who contributes to the magazine Carta de Cuba (Havana).
Pablo Pacheco, of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes (CAPI) agency (Ciego de Avila) (according to Cuba Press agency chief Raul Rivero).
Mario Enrique Mayo, of the Félix Varela agency (Camagüey), and Carmelo Diaz Fernández, of the Agencia de Prensa Sindical Independiente (according to Fara Armenteros of the UPECI).
Luis Cino (Nueva Prensa agency), who had been picked up on 18 March at the home of Ricardo González, was freed on 19 March. Alida Viso Bello and Claudia Marquez were free and it was not known if they had actually been arrested. There was no news of Normando Hernández, head of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (CPIC) agency. Police reportedly went to his home but he was said to be in hiding.
Between 50 and 100 dissidents in all are thought to have been arrested.
03.19.2003 - 12 independent journalists arrested in crackdown on dissidents
Reporters Without Borders today denounced the arrest of a dozen journalists working for independent unauthorised Cuban news agencies and called for their immediate release along with several dozen other dissidents the government said on 18 March it had arrested.
Those detained were accused of being "traitors" and "in the pay of" James Cason, the head of the US Interests Section (diplomatic representative) in Havana who the government accused of subversive activities. The official announcement said the arrested dissidents would be tried, which means they face up to 20 years in prison.
"This wave of arrests marks the end of a period of relative tolerance of the independent media in Cuba," said Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. "The seizure of equipment from the home of journalist Ricardo González, editor of the fortnightly dissident magazine De Cuba, will mean its closure after only two issues, which shows the authorities brook no challenge to their monopoly of news inside the country."
"The charge of working with the US Interests Section is just an excuse, since dissidents fighting for human rights and democracy are supported by many foreign embassies in Cuba, including several of European countries," he said.
Reporters Without Borders has called for rejection of Cuba’s application in January to join the Cotonou Agreement (giving 77 Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries access to economic aid and trade concessions from European Union member-states) until all imprisoned journalists in Cuba are released, the state media monopoly is abolished and independent news agencies are legally recognised.
Crackdown on the independent press
The 12 journalists reportedly arrested are:
Ricardo González, head of the Sociedad Manuel Márquez Sterling group of independent journalists and Reporters Without Borders correspondent (Havana); José Luis García Paneque, head of the Libertad agency based in Las Tunas (east of Havana); Omar Rodríguez Saludes and Luis Cino, head and reporter of the Nueva Prensa agency (Havana); Jorge Olivera, head of the Havana Press agency (Havana); Pedro Argüelles Morán, head of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes agency (Ciego de Avila); Alida Viso Bello, of the Cuba Press agency (Havana); Claudia Márquez, of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency (Havana); Iván Hernández Carrillo, correspondent of the Pátria agency in Colón (Matanzas); Miguel Galván, of Havana Press; Edel José García, a freelance; and Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, of the UPECI agency (Pinar del Rio).
An official statement read on TV said the journalists would be punished under "laws dealing with serious acts of collaborating with the enemy." This could include law 88 on "protecting national independence and the economy," passed in February 1999, which provides for up to 20 years imprisonment for subversion on behalf of the "imperialist ends" of the United States, including working with foreign media.
A report by Raúl Rivero, head of Cuba Press, on the Internet website nuevaprensa.org, said the homes of García Paneque, González and Rodríguez Saludes were raided in the course of a sweeping police operation. Ten police spent 11 hours searching the home of González and took away the computer and fax he used to produce the magazine De Cuba.
The appearance of De Cuba on 19 December last year was the first new challenge for several years to the government’s information monopoly. A second issue came out on 27 February this year. Some 300 copies were printed and distributed secretly in the country’s 14 provinces. The magazine, entirely staffed by independent journalists living in Cuba itself, aims to present fresh viewpoints to Cubans, whose only source of news is the official media.
Download the magazine :
Revista de Cuba
State monopoly of news
The Cuban constitution bans any private ownership of the media. 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, a score of them were arrested and more than 30 acts of intimidation against journalists counted by Reporters Without Borders. Nearly 60 independent journalists have been forced into exile abroad since 1995.
Four journalists are currently in prison in Cuba. They are Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, of the Línea Sur Press news agency, who was sentenced in November 1997 to six years imprisonment for "insulting" President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage; Carlos Brizuela Yera, of the CPIC news agency, and Lexter Téllez Castro, head of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña, who were arrested on 4 March last year in Ciego de Ávila while protesting against a police attack on a journalist from the Cuba Press agency; and Carlos Alberto Domínguez, who has been held without formal charges since 23 February last year.
A Reporters Without Borders survey - "Cuba, where news is the exclusive reserve of the state" (published last December and available at www.rsf.org) - describes their conditions of detention. The report notes that despite official harassment, some independent journalists say their activities are more or less tolerated. In reality, it says, this is not so and the government’s repression has achieved its goal of keeping independent journalists this side of the "red line," which is putting out unauthorised news to the general population.