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Cuba5 March 2002

Five independent journalists attacked or arrested

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested to the Cuban government today about attacks and arrests involving five independent journalists and called for the attackers to be punished and for the release of the two journalists still being held.

"Violence seems to have become the new way of cracking down on the independent press," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Cuban interior minister Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra. He recalled that three of the five had already been beaten by the police last December. The Cuban authorities were responsible last year for about a hundred instances of pressure or intimidation of independent journalists and arrested 29 of them.

RSF learns that interior ministry police and members of the Rapid Response brigades (groups used to crush dissidents) beat up Jesús Alvarez Castillo, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Ciego de Avila (central Cuba), on 4 March, as he was about to cover a event organised by the Cuban Human Rights Foundation (FCDH), which is not officially recognised by the government. He lost consciousness and came to a few hours later at the local hospital, when he was found to have a cracked neck bone.

Lester Tellez Castro, head of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña agency, and Carlos Brizuela Yera, who works for the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camaguey agency, were also beaten and then arrested by police as they went to visit Alvarez Castillo in hospital, according to the Manuel Márquez Sterling Association, which comprises about 40 independent journalists. Both men, who had been detained from 1 to 3 March, are still being held.

State security police went on the morning of 5 March to the home of Normando Hernández, head of the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camaguey agency, apparently to arrest him, but he managed to escape. Hernández had reported the attacks on Alvarez Castillo, Tellez Castro and Brizuela Yera to the Florida-based Radio Martí, which broadcasts to Cuba.

The Manuel Márquez Sterling Association also reported that on 3 March a stranger hit 70-year-old journalist Juan Basulto Morell on the head with a stick and shouted: "Take that for being a counter-revolutionary!" Basulto Morell works for the Libertad agency in the western town of Las Tunas.

RSF recalls that last 25 December, five independent journalists, including Hernández, Tellez Castro and Brizuela Yera, were beaten by uniformed and plainclothes police while covering the inauguration of an independent library in the town of Florida, in the central province of Camaguey. Independent libraries are set up by private individuals and lend out books, especially those banned by the regime.

Only the government-controlled press is allowed to operate in Cuba. Independent journalists are routinely dubbed "counter-revolutionaries" by the authorities, who constantly harass them. About 50 journalists have been forced into exile abroad since 1995.

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