Sunday, February 08, 2009

As UN conducts universal periodic review, 205 political prisoners, including 23 journalists, await release.

3 February 2009

As UN conducts universal periodic review, 205 political prisoners,
including 23 journalists, await release.

As the UN Human Rights Council prepares to hold its universal periodic
review of the situation in Cuba on 5 February in Geneva, Reporters
Without Borders points out that the Cuban government, for all its
denials and claims to have a "clear conscience," continues to hold 23
journalists solely because of their dissident views and still refuses to
permit an independent press.

The press freedom organisation hopes that mediation by other Latin
American countries and by Spain, and the new US administration's
declared readiness to dialogue could open the way to the release of the
imprisoned journalists.

"Almost a year has passed since Raúl Castro formally took over as
president on 24 February 2008, but the few signs of an opening have
fallen far short of the expectations of Cuban civil society and those
outside the country that support it," Reporters Without Borders said.
"At that time, Cuba signed two UN human rights conventions but it still
has not ratified them. The sanctions which the European Union imposed
after the March 2003 "Black Spring" were quickly suspended and were
finally lifted altogether last June, but Cuba gave nothing in return and
continues to be the world's second biggest prison for journalists, after

The organisation added: "The universal periodic review by the UN Human
Rights Council, on which Cuba has a seat, and the announced visit by the
UN special rapporteur on torture should not be used to exempt Cuba from
the commitments and concrete gestures that these imply. We call on those
governments engaged in a dialogue with Cuba to step up mediation aimed
at obtaining the release of the imprisoned journalists."

According to a report released yesterday by the Cuban Commission for
Human Rights and National Reconciliation (a Havana-based organisation
that is illegal but nonetheless tolerated by the regime), Cuba currently
has 205 political prisoners, down from 234 at the beginning of 2008.
Although there were a few releases or cases of sentences being suspended
for health reasons, the reports says a total of 54 prison inmates died
as a result of suicide, violence by criminal detainees or negligence by
the prison authorities in 2008, and that there were more than 1,000
brief arrests of suspected dissidents.

Ricardo González Alfonso, the Reporters Without Borders correspondent
and editor of the magazine De Cuba, was returned to his cell last year
after a long spell in the hospital of Havana's Combinado del Este
prison. He was repeatedly denied the right to speak to his children by
telephone in December, after being awarded the 2008 Reporters Without
Borders journalist of the year prize. Serving a 20-year jail sentence
imposed during the 2003 "Black Spring" and now aged 58, González is
currently being held in a damp and unhealthy isolation cell in which his
health is deteriorating.

Fabio Prieto Llorente, 45, another independent journalist serving a
20-year sentence imposed in March 2003, is also being kept in solitary
confinement. Held in El Guayabo prison on the Isle of Youth, where he is
from, he has been on hunger strike since 28 January in protest against
the harassment to which he has been subjected by the prison's guards and
the State Security (the political police).

Pablo Pacheco Avila, 38, a reporter with the Cooperativa Avileña de
Periodistas Independientes who was also sentenced to 20 years in prison
in 2003, was transferred from Morón prison to Canaleta prison in the
central province of Ciego de Ávila at the start of January. According to
a fellow detainee, he was moved because Morón prison needs to be
repaired before the UN special rapporteur's arrival.

Normando Hernández González, 39, the head of the Colegio de Periodistas
Independientes in the central province of Camagüey, is very ill and
unable to eat normally, but he did not receive appropriate treatment and
was finally admitted to the Combinado del Este prison hospital on 8
January. He is serving a 25-year sentence that was imposed during the
"Black Spring." The Costa Rican government's offer to take him on
humanitarian grounds never received a reply.

Nineteen of the 23 dissident journalists currently imprisoned in Cuba
were arrested in 2003. They were given sentences ranging from 14 to 27
years in prison on the alleged grounds that they were "mercenaries in
the pay of the United States."

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