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    CPJ urges acting president of Cuba to immediately release all jailed journalists

    CPJ urges acting president of Cuba to immediately release all jailed

    March 14, 2007

    His Excellency Raúl Castro Ruz
    First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers
    Republic of Cuba
    C/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
    New York, NY 10016-2606

    Via facsimile: 212-779-1697

    Your Excellency:

    The Committee to Protect Journalists is asking you, as acting
    president of Cuba, to immediately release all reporters, writers, and
    editors imprisoned in your country. With 24 independent journalists
    behind bars today, Cuba continues to be one of the leading jailers of
    journalists in the world, second only to China.

    Of the 24 reporters currently in jail in Cuban prisons, 22 have
    been incarcerated since the government's massive crackdown on political
    dissidence four years ago this week.

    In March 2003, while the world's attention was focused on the U.S.
    invasion of Iraq, 29 independent journalists were detained as part of a
    wider crackdown on the opposition. Two weeks later, the reporters were
    tried summarily behind closed doors and sentenced to terms ranging from
    14 to 27 years in prison.

    The Cuban government has labeled these journalists "mercenaries"
    who acted against the interests of the state. This is an arbitrary and
    vague charge unsupported by any evidence. In fact, a CPJ analysis of
    trial documents further indicates that the journalists were prosecuted
    for engaging in professional activities protected by international law.

    Seven journalists have since been released on medical parole.
    According to CPJ research, the 22 who remain in jail have lived their
    four-year imprisonment under extremely difficult circumstances. They
    suffer from continuous harassment, humiliating prison conditions, and
    psychological pressures.

    Journalists who were ill before being jailed have seen their health
    worsen in prison, while others who were in good health have developed
    illnesses. Some have additionally developed alarming mental health
    problems. Various journalists have started hunger strikes to protest
    poor conditions. In retaliation, prison authorities have transferred
    them, limited outside contact, and withheld information about their health.

    Some remain far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on
    their families. Journalists and family members have cited unsanitary
    prison conditions, inadequate medical care, and an unhealthy, meager
    diet. Several are in cells with common criminals; others are in isolation.

    Many of the journalists are allowed family visits only once every
    three months and marital visits only once every four months. Relatives
    are harassed for talking to the foreign press and for protesting the
    journalists' incarceration.

    Moreover, CPJ is seriously concerned about the imprisonment of two
    other journalists in reprisal for their work during this past year.
    Armando Betancourt Reina, a Camagüey-based reporter for Nueva Prensa
    Cubana, has been imprisoned since May, and has yet to be charged. He was
    arrested while covering the evictions of dozens of families from their
    homes. In November, Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez was sentenced to two
    years of home confinement on charges of "social dangerousness," and
    forbidden from practicing independent journalism. He had been covering
    an outbreak of dengue fever.

    Since President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to you on July
    31, CPJ has documented cases of constant harassment, and detentions of
    independent journalists who are still trying to report news that the
    official press ignores. Furthermore, foreign journalists who are
    covering a story of worldwide importance have been denied entry into
    Cuba. Three weeks ago, your government announced its decision not to
    renew the visas of three Havana-based correspondents. The decision,
    which comes in clear reprisal for their independent reporting, could
    have a chilling effect on the foreign media's ability to cover Cuba at
    this crucial time.

    The imprisonment of journalists in reprisal for their independent
    reporting violates international law, including Article 19 of the
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees everyone "the
    right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any
    media and regardless of frontiers."

    We urge you to release all of the detained journalists immediately
    and unconditionally, and we call on the Cuban government to respect
    international guarantees for free expression and to stop persecuting the
    independent press.


    Joel Simon
    Executive Director


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