Imprisoned Cuban journalist and poet Raúl Rivero has lost nearly 20 kgs (40 pounds) in weight since he was jailed last March, according to his wife Blanca Reyes (photo), who fears he is being starved in jail in Ciego de Avila, where he is serving a 20-year sentence for allegedly "undermining the independence and unity of the state."
She told Reporters Without Borders on 4 August that she had spoken to him by phone on 31 July and that it was clear he was suffering though he did not complain. He was deliberately being held in harsh conditions and only allowed one visit every three months instead of the normal one month. She said her own visits to him, as his wife, were also restricted.
"I can only bring him extra food every three months," she said. "Canned food is forbidden, so he has to eat biscuits and has no protein in his diet. I won’t be able to see him again until 21 August." She said he also had circulatory problems and that the authorities were passing on medication she brought him.
"His conditions of detention are inhuman and unacceptable," she said. "He is exhausted by the heat and the filthy cells are infested with cockroaches and mosquitoes. Even Fidel Castro, when he was jailed for armed rebellion against dictator Fulgencio Batista, didn’t have to suffer such conditions. Raúl is innocent. I’m in despair."
She called on the authorities to end his harsh detention regime and give him healthy and balanced food. She said his 82-year-old mother, Hortensia Castañeda, was very affected by his imprisonment. "I hold the government responsible for her state of her health," she warned.
Rivero (photo) has been in Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila, 420 km east of Havana, since he was sentenced in April (after being arrested on 20 March). He was accused of writing "biased" articles in the foreign press, meeting with US diplomats and working with Reporters Without Borders, which was described as a "French terrorist organisation used by the US government."
Rivero, who was awarded the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France prize in 1997, is also a member of the Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists’ Association, which is part of the Reporters Without Borders Network that includes press freedom organisations all over the world.
At least seven other independent journalists arrested at the end of March are reportedly ill. One of them, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, has been transferred to hospital in Santiago de Cuba with cirrhosis of the liver as a result of strong international pressure. His wife Miriam Leiva says the hospital is not clean and has asked for his transfer to a hospital in Havana. Espinosa fears he will contract new illnesses in the Santiago hospital and has refused to undergo medical tests. His wife says he has lost about 20 kgs which is endangering his health.
The six other journalists said to be ill are Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Carmelo Díaz Fernández, Hector Maseda Gutiérrez, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Miguel Galván Gutierrez and Normándo Hernández. Several have reportedly not received treatment they need and have also lost weight.
A total of 75 regime dissidents were arrested at the end of March, including 26 independent journalists. They were tried in early April and each sentenced to between 14 and 27 years imprisonment, mostly under laws to protect the "independence and unity" of the state.
They were accused of publishing articles abroad that allegedly served the "imperialist interests" of the United States and having contacts with the US Interests Section (diplomatic representation) in Havana. Tape-recorders, computers, fax machines and written material seized at their homes were presented as evidence at their hasty trials.
Article 53 of the Cuban constitution bans privately-owned media. Apart from the small Catholic Church press, all media is controlled by the ruling Cuban Communist Party.
More than 13 years ago, Reporters Without Borders set up a system where international media can "sponsor" imprisoned journalists. Some 120 media outlets around the world have responded by adopting colleagues, regularly calling for their release and publicising their plight so they are not forgotten. Rivero is sponsored by the French daily newspapers Ouest France, Le Figaro, Metro and La Tribune, as well as the TV station TV5 and the France Culture radio station.
For more about journalists imprisoned in Cuba, see the section "Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists"