Reporters Without Borders demonstrated against the imprisonment of 30 journalists in Cuba, at an art exhibition at a major Paris landmark attended by the Cuban Culture Minister.
Demonstrators made their protest at the Great Arch of La Défense on 20 January as the Cuban minister and the Cuban ambassador to Paris visited the rooftop opening of a major exhibition of contemporary Cuban art.
The international press freedom organisation was protesting against Cuba’s jailing of 30 journalists, 27 of whom were arrested in an unprecedented crackdown in March 2003. Cuba has become the world’s biggest prison for journalists, they said.
More than 75 dissidents were arrested between 18 and 20 March, among them 27 independent journalists. They were sentenced, after summary trials, to jail terms running from six to 28 years. They were then sent to prisons, generally at considerable distance from their homes, making visits from their families extremely difficult.
They were also held for several months under an especially severe regime, in solitary confinement and in extremely harsh conditions. Most of them have recently been transferred to general cells that they share with common-law prisoners.
These transfers have not been harmless. Weakened by months of deprivation and hunger strikes, prisoners of conscience have been left at the mercy of other prisoners and warders. Three warders at Guantanamo provincial prison brutally beat Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona leaving him with a serious leg injury on 31 December 2003.
Another independent journalist, Juan Adolfo Fernández Saínz, was assaulted on 6 December by a common-law prisoner. No action was taken against his assailant.
The journalists have not even received the privileges that should go with the changed regime. The number of family visits they can receive remains restricted, along with their right to receive food and post.
Reporters Without Borders has expressed its concern on several occasions about the safety and hygiene conditions under which the journalists live. Several of them are suffering from chronic medical conditions that require special treatment, which the authorities have regularly denied them.
Poet and independent journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal has been in hospital since 5 January 2004, because of lung problems, about which his family have been unable to obtain any details. Reporters Without Borders has made it clear to the authorities that it holds them responsible for the state of health of all the imprisoned dissidents.
All the latest news is available on the special page "Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists".