The families of several of the independent journalists and dissidents arrested last week have been allowed to visit them since 24 March in various places of detention around the country. They were allowed to stay between 15 and 30 minutes, mostly in the presence of a guard who ensured that conversation was confined to morale or health matters and not about any charges against them. Many families have been told these charges are being worked out.
Most of the journalists said they had been well treated, though some families reported some had health problems. Elizardo Sánchez, head of the CCDHRN, said on 26 March that those arrested had no access to lawyers.
Blanca Reyes, wife of jailed poet and journal Raúl Rivero, told Reporters Without Borders she had been able to visit her husband at Villa Marista, the state security headquarters in Havana, on 26 March. He told her he was being held with common law criminals and had been well treated, but Reyes said he was being held in conditions of "minimal" sanitation.
The officer present during the meeting told her Rivero and Ricardo González, the Reporters Without Borders correspondent, would be prosecuted under the "defence of national independence" law (88). Their case-file number is 3-48.
Law 88 provides for up to 20 years imprisonment for collaborating with US policies towards Cuba. Reyes said she was held at the prison for nearly an hour and a half after the visit, which prevented her from attending a press conference given by several wives of dissidents for the foreign media.
The Greek presidency of the European Union (EU) condemned the arrests on 26 March and called for the immediate release of those detained, saying it considered them prisoners of conscience. It said such arrests violated freedom of expression, which the EU wanted to encourage in its relations with outside countries. It added that "violations of fundamental civil and political rights" would be "monitored very closely" by the EU and would "continue to influence the Union’s relations with Cuba."
24.03.2003 - At least 24 journalists detained
Reporters Without Borders learns that family members were allowed to visit some of the journalists arrested last week. Most of them were reportedly detained in Villa Marista (Havana), headquarters of the state security, which is in charge of the repression against dissidents.
The latest report by the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN), headed by Elizardo Sanchez, states that 75 dissidents were arrested since 18 March. According to the figures posted on the nuevaprensa.org (visit) and cubanet.org (visit) websites, at least 24 of them are journalists. They are:
Victor Rolando Arroyo, UPECI agency (Pinar del Río)
Pedro Argüelles Morán, CAPI agency (Ciego de Avila)
Mijail Barzaga Lugo, freelance journalist (Havana)
Carmelo Díaz Fernandez, freelance journalist and unionist (Havana)
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, freelance journalist and economist (Havana)
Adolfo Fernández Sainz, Pátria agency (Havana)
Miguel Galván, Havana Press agency (Güines)
Julio César Alvarez, freelance journalist (Havana)
Edel José García Díaz, freelance journalist, former head of Centro Norte Press agency (CNP, Havana)
José Luis García Paneque, head of Libertad agency (Las Tunas)
Ricardo González Alfonso, editor of De Cuba and Reporters without borders’s correspondent (Havana)
Alejandro González Raga, freelance journalist (Havana)
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, freelance journalist (Havana)
Hector Maseda, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency (Havana)
Mario Enrique Mayo, head of Félix Varela agency (Camagüey)
Normando Hernández, head of Independant College of Journalists agency (Camagüey)
Jorge Olivera Castillo, head of Havana Press agency (havana)
Pablo Pacheco Avila, CAPI agency (Ciego de Avila)
Fabio Prieto Llorente,freelance jouranlist (Havana)
José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, freelance journalist (Santiago de Cuba)
Raúl Rivero Castañeda, head of Cuba Press agency (Havana)
Omar Rodríguez Saludes, head of Nueva Prensa agency (Havana)
Omar Ruiz, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency (Havana)
Manuel Vazquez Portal, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency (Havana)
Two other journalists were reportedly under house-arrest. They are:
Roberto García Cabreras, free-lance journalist (Havana)
Adela Soto Alvarez, Nueva Prensa agency (Pinar del Río)
24.03.2003 - Two dozen independent journalists arrested, including news agency editor and poet Raúl Rivero
Reporters Without Borders today voiced its outrage at the arrest of some 20 independent journalists including Raúl Rivero (photo), 1997 winner of the Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award, and called on the European Union to send a clear signal that it will not tolerate this level of repression.
A poet and the editor of the clandestine news agency Cuba Press, Rivero was arrested on 20 March by police who searched his home. His detention was one of the latest in a wave of arrests in dissident circles that began on 18 March. According to the latest tally, about 20 independent journalists and some 30 other dissidents (government opponents and human rights activists) have been detained.
"The arrest of Raúl Rivero, one of the leading figures of Cuba’s independent press, has taken the current wave of repression beyond another threshold," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "The Cuban authorities are clearly taking advantage of the war in Iraq to crack down while the world looks elsewhere. Human rights in Cuba can therefore be viewed as one of the first cases of collateral damage in the second Gulf war. Human rights in other countries could also soon suffer the same fate," Ménard warned.
In a letter to European commissioner for development Poul Nielson, Ménard called on the European Union to suspend consideration of Cuba’s application to joint the Cotonou trade accords. "It is essential that the European Union should send a clear signal that it will not tolerate the current wave of repression. The European Union must above all be consistent. It is official policy that the expansion of relations with Cuba depends on Cuba’s respect for human rights. The European parliament awarded the Sakharov human rights award to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá last December."
The Cotonou accords, which Cuba applied to join in January 2003, grant 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (the ACP group) economic aid and preferential trade relations with the European Union.
Arrests end a period of relative tolerance
The websites nuevaprensa.org and cubanet.org, which carry the articles of independent journalists who are banned in Cuba, have reported the arrest of more than 20 independent journalists since 18 March. According to the latest estimates, a total of 50 dissidents including the journalists have been arrested during the same period.
The authorities have accused those detained of being "traitors" and "employees in the pay" of James Cason, the head of the US interests sections, which substitutes for a US embassy in Havana. Cason himself has been accused by the government of directing their subversive activity. A statement published on 19 March in the official daily Granma said that the dissidents would be tried. They were facing up to 20 years in prison.
This wave of arrests ends a period of relative tolerance which Cuba’s independent press seemed to have been enjoying for the past few months. Taking advantage of this let-up, several journalists in December 2002 had launched a magazine called De Cuba, which was the first attempt to challenge the government monopoly of news reporting in 10 years. The arrest of Ricardo González (photo), the editor of De Cuba and Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent, put an end to the bimonthly, whose last issue came out on 26 February.
Download the magazine De Cuba :
Revista de Cuba
De Cuba n°2
Raúl Rivero, winner of the 1997 Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award
Born in Morón (Camagüey) in 1945, Raúl Rivero used to be a journalist with the official news agency Prensa Latina and was its Moscow correspondent from 1973 to 1976. He resigned from UNEAC, the official association of Cuban journalists and writers in 1989. He broke completely with the regime in 1991 when he signed "The letter of 10 intellectuals" which called on President Fidel Castro to free prisoners of conscience and to reform the socialist regime. He is the only one of the 10 signatories who is still in Cuba.
He created Cuba Press, one of the first independent news agencies, in September 1995. It has never been recognised by the government. He received the Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award in 1997 for his efforts on behalf of press freedom in Cuba. He was last arrested was on 9 March 1999, the date of the last major wave of arrests. It came just over a year after the pope’s visit in January 1998 and was the government’s way of showing there would be no liberalization.
Since then, his international reputation had seem to protect him from the everyday harassment to which his colleagues are exposed. However, the government never granted him a temporary exit visa so that he could take advantage of invitations to attend events abroad. The only permission it was prepared to give him was for a definitive departure with no return. Rivero had always refused this.
"Cuba, where news is the exclusive reserve of the state"
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" - 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.
List of the journalists detained