Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release of independent Cuban journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón (photo) after six years in prison for "insulting" President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage.
It noted however that 29 other independent journalists were still held in Cuban jails, 26 of them arrested in March along with 50 other dissidents in an unprecedented crackdown and each sentenced to between 14 and 27 years in prison.
"The release on 13 November of Arévalo Padrón, head of the former Línea Sur Press, has put an end to his family’s suffering," the press freedom organisation said. "But he had to serve his full sentence, without any reduction. The authorities made him pay a heavy price for criticising them."
Arévalo Padrón was sentenced on appeal on 28 November 1997 for "insulting" Castro and Lage by calling them "liars" on Radio Marti, the US government-funded station broadcasting from Florida. He had accused them of failing to keep promises about democratisation made as participants at the 1996 Ibero-American Summit.
Pedro Castellanos, leader of the non-authorised Democracy Movement party, said Arévalo Padrón phoned him on 13 November to say he had been released that morning and given his official certificate of release without explanation. He said the journalist told him he would resume his writing as a member of the José Maceo independent news agency.
Arévalo Padrón had been held since July 2002 at Ariza prison in the central province of Cienfuegos after four and a half years of being switched around various jails and several labour camps where he was forced to cut sugarcane. His wife Libertad said he had back and heart problems and also the bacterial disease leptospirosis.
In October 2000, he qualified for early release, having served half his sentence, but was kept in prison because he had allegedly "failed to comply with a re-education programme."
The Cuban national constitution bans all private ownership of the media. Because they cannot publish in their own country, 100 or so independent journalists rely on Cuban exile groups in the United States to put out what they write, mostly on Internet websites, where they are picked up and reprinted in foreign publications.