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France - Cuba9 July 2003

French court bans Reporters Without Borders from using photo of dead Cuban leader "Che" Guevara

A Paris court today banned Reporters Without Borders and the French advertising agency Rampazzo from using a world-famous photo of Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara wearing a beret with a red star on it. The ban was at the request of Diane Diaz Lopez, daughter and heir of the late Cuban photographer Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, known as Korda, who took the picture.

"We deplore this court decision, which plays into the hands of the Cuban authorities," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "We especially regret that the complaint against us, which concerns the principle of the right to use photos, did not include discussion of the broader issue of the appalling state of press freedom and human rights in Cuba." The grounds for the ban would be examined before a decision to appeal was made.

He said the organisation would obey the ban and suspend a planned 8-22 July poster campaign using the photo. But he he warned that if it did not lodge an appeal, it would find new ways to publicise the plight of the 30 journalists currently imprisoned in Cuba and try to win their release.

The judge who issued the ban set a fine of 200 euros for every time it was infringed and said the photo must be removed from the Reporters Without Borders website. The organisation was ordered to pay 1,000 euros in damages to the plaintiff as well as 1,000 euros in costs. However the judge refused Mrs Diaz Lopez’ request for the verdict to be published at Reporters Without Borders’ expense in five French national daily papers and on its website.

The lawsuit had sought to "stop publication, distribution and sale" of the photo which was to have been used in a poster campaign about lack of press freedom in Cuba aimed at the 120,000 or so French people who each year go on holiday to Cuba, drawn by the sun, the beaches or the legend of the Cuban Revolution. The planned campaign poster showed Guevara’s face superimposed on a famous image of a policeman brandishing a truncheon and a shield that became famous in the 1968 student uprising in France. The caption said: "Welcome to Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists."

Behind the ideology of the Cuban revolution, which still inspires many tourists, is the reality of a totalitarian regime which uses the image of "Che" in an effort to legitimise repression. The poster also shows how a revolution that inspired a entire generation in the 1960s has now turned into what that generation most detested - a police state.

Mrs Diaz Lopez said Reporters Without Borders could not "plead press freedom to distort Korda’s work for their political and advertising purposes." Korda’s photograph of Che in Havana in 1960 "represented and still represents a symbol of struggle and the future for the Cuban people," she said.

The Cuban government launched a nationwide crackdown on 18 March in which 75 dissidents were rounded up and sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years each for "undermining the unity and sovereignty of the state" or its "independence." They included 26 independent journalists who joined four others already in jail. Cuba thus became the world’s biggest prison for journalists.

The heavy punishment of these journalists who have challenged the state’s monopoly of information has been extended by sending them to prisons hundreds of miles from their homes, restricting visits from their families and keeping them in bad conditions of detention.



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