Reporters Without protested today at plans to transfer a dozen independent journalists arrested last month to provincial prisons hundreds of kilometres from their Havana area homes and warned that it would lead to their ill-treatment.
The families of a dozen of the 26 journalists detained in a crackdown on 78 dissidents were told by state security police that their relatives would shortly be sent to jails up to 900 kms from the capital. The families immediately denounced the move as an effective "second sentence" in view of the problems of moving around the country.
"This second isolation will make them even more vulnerable to the abuses and humiliating treatment that political prisoners are routinely subjected to in Cuba," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "The failure to provide medical care for journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who is seriously ill, is a very bad sign."
News of the planned transfers was reported by the websites cubanet.org and nuevaprensa.org and confirmed by the wives of several of the prisoners involved, who were named as:
Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, of the UPECI agency, to be transferred to prison in Guantanamo (910 kms from Havana).
Mijail Barzaga Lugo, of the Agencia Noticiosa de Cuba, to prison in Santa Clara (Villa Clara province), (270 kms from Havana).
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, freelance, to Guantanamo.
Adolfo Fernández Sainz, of the Pátria agency, to Holguín (730 kms from Havana).
Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, of the Havana Press agency, to Matanzas (98 kms from Havana).
Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, freelance, to Santa Clara (Villa Clara province).
Edel José García, head of the Centro Norte Press agency, to Boniato, in Santiago (860 kms from Havana).
Ricardo González, editor of the magazine De Cuba and Reporters Without Borders correspondent, to Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey (530 kms from Havana).
Hector Maseda Gutiérrez, of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency, to Santa Clara.
Jorge Olivera, head of the Havana Press agency, to Chafarina prison, in Guantanamo,
Raúl Rivero, poet and head of the Cuba Press agency, to Ciego de Avila (423 kms from Havana).
Manuel Vázquez Portal, of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro agency, to Boniato (Santiago).
Miriam Leyva, Espinosa Chepe’s wife, said he was seriously ill with chronic hepatitis and high blood pressure and was not getting the medicine he needed. His niece, Dr Ileana Prieto Espinosa, said he had very serious liver problems.
He was transferred on 21 April from Villa Marista, the headquarters of the state security police, where he was put in the Marianao military hospital. His wife was told when she visited him the next day that he had not had medical tests or treatment because he was going to be sent to Guantanamo prison very shortly. The Italian ambassador in Havana has officially expressed his concern about Chepe’s health.
The Cuban government took advantage of the imminent US invasion of Iraq to launch an unprecedented wave of repression on 18 March, arresting nearly 80 dissidents, including 26 independent journalists, and accusing them of undermining the country’s "independence and territorial integrity" in league with the US Interests Section (diplomatic representation) in Havana. They were jailed for between six and 28 years.
Raúl Rivero, 1997 winner of the Reporters Without Borders / Fondation de
France Prize and Ricardo González, the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in Havana, received 20-year sentences. All were given sham trials, in secret, at high speed, with no right to defend themselves and involving pre-prepared evidence from undercover agents and neighbours accusing them solely on the basis of their opinions.
Before 18 March, four journalists were already in prison. They were 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 Lester 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.
The Cuban constitution bans any private ownership of the media. Because they cannot publish in their own country, about 100 independent journalists have relied on Cuban exile organisations in the United States to put out their articles, mostly on Internet websites. Nearly 60 independent journalists have been forced into exile abroad since 1995 after being harassed daily by the authorities.