Reporters with Borders called today for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuban journalist Carlos Alberto Domínguez, of the Cuba Verdad independent press agency, who arrested on 23 February.
"This arrest shows the independent press is not being spared in the wave of repression against the opposition," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro. Ménard noted that Cuba is currently the only country in Latin America where journalists are still being imprisoned.
RSF also called for the release of independent journalists Lester Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera and for charges against them to be dropped. It also repeated its demand for the release of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, head of the Linéa Sur Press agency who has been in jail since November 1997.
RSF learns that Domínguez was arrested at his home by four state security police and jailed first in Havana at a centre run by the Technical Investigation Department (DTI), which is part of the interior ministry and notorious for ill-treating prisoners. The health of the journalist, who suffers from migraine and high blood pressure, deteriorated badly and since 8 March he has been held at the Mariana military hospital.
Domínguez has reportedly been charged with "disturbing public order" and "refusing to obey instructions." He is also said to have been accused of helping to organise demonstrations on 24 February to mark the death of four pilots of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, who were shot down by Cuban air force planes on 26 February 1996. Domínguez is also head of the Law Institute and a member of the November 30 Democratic Party, two organisations not recognised by the authorities, and has been arrested many times because of this.
Marta Beatriz Roque, head of the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists, says 26 opposition activists have been arrested over the past three weeks. "This wave of repression is aimed at decapitating dozens of dissident groups operating in the country," she said.
Téllez Castro, who heads of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA) and Brizuela Yera, who works for the Colegio de Periodístas Independientes de Camaguey, were beaten by police on 4 March and then detained along with eight human rights activists. They were arrested on their way to visit Jesús Alvarez Castillo, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Ciego de Avila (central Cuba), who had been hospitalised after being beaten up the same day by police.
Téllez Castro was transferred to a prison in Cienfuegos (west of Ciego de Avila) on 11 March and Brizuela Yera was sent to a detention centre in the eastern province of Holguín. The two men are expected to be charged with "insulting behaviour," as well as "causing trouble in a medical facility" and "refusing to obey instructions." APLA director Téllez Castro has been on hunger strike since 5 March. The eight human rights activists were also taken to detention centres.
RSF also calls again for the release of Arévalo Padrón, who was sentenced on appeal on 28 November 1997 to six years in prison for "insulting" President Castro and Vice-president Carlos Lage in an interview with a Miami radio station, in which he called them "liars" for failing to respect commitments to democracy they had signed at an Ibero-American summit. The journalist is being held in labour camp no. 16, in Cienfuegos province. His applications for release on bail have been rejected several times.
Only the government-controlled media is allowed to operate in Cuba. About 100 independent journalists rely on Cuban exile organisations in the United States to distribute their articles, mostly on Internet websites. Reporters Without Borders counted nearly 100 instances last year of pressure or intimidation aimed at journalists, including threats, physical attacks, police summonses, house arrest and pressure on families. The authorities also arrested 29 journalists. About 50 independent journalists have been forced into exile abroad since 1995.