Reporters Without Borders protested today against the confiscation of videotapes from French freelance journalist Bernard Briançon while he was in Cuba reporting on the recent crackdown on 78 dissidents who were given heavy prison sentences last month. A tape of an interview with the wife of one of 26 journalists jailed was among the items seized.
"After censoring and jailing independent journalists, the government is now trying to censor their families so as to make the world forget about those in jail," said Reporters Without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Cuban interior minister Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra.
He also protested about restrictions on visas for foreign journalists that forced them to work illegally under cover. "This is aimed at controlling the news and the country’s image abroad," Ménard said. He called on journalists not to be afraid and to contininue going to Cuba to report on human rights violations. Briançon went to Cuba on a tourist visa.
On World Press Freedom Day (3 May), Reporters Without Borders is putting a special page on its website called "Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists," which contains news about the imprisoned journalists, international reaction to their jail sentences and details of the control of news in Cuba generally. The page will be online in English from 7 May.
A "confiscation and rectification" measure
Briançon, who runs a French privately-owned production company, Mediasens, was detained at Havana airport on 4 May as he was passing through customs on his way out of the country. He was taken to a basement room and his luggage searched. Eight videotapes of interviews with dissidents were seized without explanation. He was simply asked to sign a receipt acknowledging that they had been confiscated as a "rectification" measure.
Among the dissidents he interviewed were Beatriz del Carmen Pedroso, wife of Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, an independent journalist arrested on 19 March and sentenced early last month to 15 years in prison. She gave details of the conditions of detention of her husband, who was transferred to a prison in Santa Clara (Villa Clara province), about 300 km from his Havana home.
Twenty-five other journalists were arrested in late March and each sentenced to between 14 and 27 years in prison for allegedly undermining "national independence and territorial integrity."