Reporters Without Borders has denounced what it called a "travesty of justice" in which independent journalists in Cuba were handed down jail sentences including three of 20 years.
"In these trials of independent journalists and opposition figures that opened on 3 April you see all the ingredients of Stalinist trials: closed-door sessions, summary justice, denial of right to a defence, evidence from infiltrators, files built up over months, statements from neighbours, charges related solely to holding opinions.
"The only thing lacking is self-criticism on the part of the defendants", said the organisation’s indignant secretary-general Robert Ménard, who renewed an appeal to the European Union (EU) to freeze Cuba’s application for membership of the Cotonou Agreement, made in January last year.
"The European Union must send a strong signal that it objects to the current crackdown", he said, recalling that closer relations between the EU and Cuba are officially dependent on respect for human rights in the country and that the European Parliament last December awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya.
According to early reports received by Reporters Without Borders, Raúl Rivero, managing editor of the agency Cuba Press and winner of the Reporters Without Borders -Fondation de France prize in 1997, was sentenced on 7 April 2003 to 20 years in prison.
This sentence had been demanded by the public prosecutor at the end of a summary trial held on 4 April. The same sentence was handed down to Ricardo González, correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and Cuba’s first dissident review against whom the prosecutor had demanded a life sentence, and against Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who worked for the internet site cubanet.org and Hector Maseda, of the press agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro.
"This was a show trial. Everything was fitted up in advance" said Raúl Rivero’s wife, Blanca Reyes. He was among 78 dissidents arrested by the authorities from 18-24 March, of whom 24 were independent journalists. According to the Cuban human commission for human rights and national reconciliation, 71 dissidents had already been tried from 3-5 April. The trials lasted no longer than one day. All were charged with activities against the integrity and sovereignty of the state" in collaboration with James Cason, US interests’ section head - the official US representative - in Havana.
"It was a show trial that was a long time in the planning," said Julia Nuñez, wife of Adolfo Fernández Sainz, of the press agency Pátria, whose trial was held on 3 April. For her part, after the hearing, Miriam Leyva, wife of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, termed the trial a "complete farce". "It was a complete set-up, the jail sentences were written down well before the trial," she said. Oscar Espinosa Chepe reportedly told the court that that he had not been informed that his trial was being held and was expecting to be taken for questioning when he had been brought from his cell.
According to Blanca Reyes, Raúl Rivero and Ricardo González, who were tried together on 4 avril before a court in Havana, only met their lawyer on the eve of the hearing. Victor Rolando Arroyo, correspondent for the agency UPECI at Pinar del Río, southwest of Havana, chose not to engage a lawyer because he was convinced that his sentence had been decided in advance. A state-appointed lawyer represented him at his 3 April trial.
No members of the international press, or diplomats were admitted to the courts. According to the internet site cubanet.org, at Artemisa, southwest of Havana, only communist party activists, aside from family members of the defendant, were allowed to attend the trials of the journalists José Ubaldo Gutiérrez, of the press agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, and Miguel Galván, of Havana Press. State security agents patrolled the neighbourhood outside the courts.
According to Blanca Reyes, Raúl Rivero and Ricardo González were accused at the trial of writing "against the government", of having met James Cason and organising "subversive meetings" at their homes. They were also accused of collaborating with Reporters Without Borders, "a French terrorist organisation manipulated by the United States government" and with the Madrid-based Hispano-Cuban Foundation, also termed "terrorist" and accused of being linked to the United States. "I do not plot, I write", said Raúl Rivero at the trial, which was filmed by official Cuban television.
Eight witnesses gave evidence for the prosecution, including two well-known dissident journalists Manuel David Orrio and Nestor Baguer, who have admitted to being state security agents who infiltrated the ranks of the independent press. The second of them accused Raúl Rivero of being alcoholic. The other witnesses, neighbours of the two defendants, said they had seen the two journalists being visited in their homes by foreign diplomats or holding subversive meetings there.
The agents who infiltrated the independent journalists were also quoted as witnesses in the trial of Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Hector Maseda, tried together on 3 April, and of Mario Enrique Mayo, publisher of the press agency Félix Varela, at Camagüey in the east of the island. According to Varela’s wife Maydelin Guerra, the informer had reported accompanying the journalist to the US interests section where he went to use the Internet.
*The Cotonou Accords link 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations of the ACP Group to the European Union in a preferential commercial and economic aid agreement.
First verdicts against the journalists on 7 April 2002 :
Raúl Rivero: 20 years
Oscar Espinosa Chepe: 20 years
Victor Rolando Arroyo: 26 years
Ricardo González : 20 years
Omar Rodríguez Saludes: 27 years
Hector Maseda Gutiérrez: 20 years
Carmelo Díaz Fernández: 15 years
Pedro Argüelles Morán: 20 years
Pablo Pacheco Avila: 20 years
Alejandro González Raga: 14 years
Mario Enrique Mayo: 20 years
Normando Hernández: 25 years
Jorge Olivera Castillo: 18 years
Edel José García: 15 years
Manuel Vázquez Portal: 18 years
Adolfo Fernández Sainz: 15 years
Mijail Barzaga Lugo: 15 years
Fabio Prieto Llorente: 20 years