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    CPJ petitioners urge Castro to free journalists

    CPJ petitioners urge Castro to free journalists
    December 31, 2008

    Raúl Castro Ruz
    President of the Republic of Cuba
    C/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
    315 Lexington Ave.
    New York, NY 10016

    Via facsimile: (212) 779-1697

    Dear President Castro,

    The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to you on the eve of the
    50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution to renew its call for the
    immediate and unconditional release of all journalists jailed in your
    country. With 21 reporters and editors unjustly incarcerated, Cuba is
    one of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, second only to

    On Monday, CPJ sent more than 500 appeals to the Cuban government asking
    for the release of Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, recipient of CPJ's 2008
    International Press Freedom Award, and the 20 other journalists who are
    behind bars in Cuba. Maseda Gutíerrez, 65, is the oldest imprisoned
    Cuban journalist. Incarcerated during the government's March 2003
    crackdown on political dissidents and the independent press, he was
    given a 20-year prison sentence.

    These petitions were sent to the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in
    New York City. They were signed by prominent U.S. and international
    journalists who gathered for CPJ's International Press Freedom Awards
    ceremony. CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, a
    CPJ board member, announced the award to Maseda Gutíerrez.

    Maseda Gutiérrez was detained along with 28 other independent
    journalists while the world's attention was focused on the U.S. invasion
    of Iraq. These reporters and editors were tried summarily behind closed
    doors and sentenced to terms ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison.
    Based on our review of trial documents, we believe that the journalists
    were prosecuted for engaging in professional activities protected by
    international law. Nine have since been released on medical parole.

    n 2007, one more journalist was jailed. Freelance reporter Oscar Sánchez
    Madan, 46, was convicted of "social dangerousness," a vague pre-emptory
    charge contained in Article 72 of the penal code, following a one-day
    trial, and was given the maximum sentence of four years in prison.

    The imprisoned journalists are held in inhumane conditions, and many
    suffer deteriorating health, according to CPJ research. At home, their
    families, unable to work, scrape for basic necessities while being
    regularly watched and often harassed by state authorities, CPJ found in
    "Cuba's Long Black Spring," a special report released in March.

    CPJ research shows that over the past five years, the Cuban government
    has used jailed journalists and other dissidents as political leverage,
    sporadically releasing a few in exchange for international concessions.
    Last February–just months after Spain announced the resumption of some
    cooperative programs with Cuba–your country freed four more prisoners,
    including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and
    Alejandro González Raga. On December 18, you offered to exchange jailed
    political dissidents for five Cuban citizens imprisoned in the United
    States on espionage charges, describing it as a gesture toward dialogue
    with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama,
    according to reports in the international press.

    While we welcome the release of any imprisoned journalist, we are
    distressed that they would be used as bargaining chips. We call for the
    immediate and unconditional release of all 21 jailed journalists. The
    imprisonment of journalists in reprisal for their independent reporting
    violates international law, including Article 19 of the Universal
    Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and
    Political Rights, signed by your government this year, which provides
    "the right to freedom of expression."

    Since you became president, there have been significant economic,
    agricultural, and administrative reforms in Cuba. However, there has
    been no real progress on press freedom issues. On the eve of this
    historic date for your country, we urge you to free these jailed
    journalists and grant freedom of expression and information, including
    Internet access, to all citizens as a sign that your government is
    willing to uphold international human rights standards.


    Joel Simon
    Executive Director


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