February 3, 1999
His Excellency Fidel Castro Ruz
President of Cuba
c/o United Nations Mission
New York, NY
SENT BY FAX
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to condemn the recent crackdown on the independent press in Cuba. The harassment, arrest, detention, and imprisonment of journalists who have committed no crime other than to express their opinions is a clear violation of international law. Furthermore, the practice of jailing journalists because they are deemed "dangerous" is a flagrant violation of the most basic tenet of international human rights, the right to a presumption of innocence.
Article 72 of Cuba's Penal Code states: "Any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality." Under the law, any police officer can issue a warning (acta de advertencia) for dangerousness. At the discretion of the prosecuting authorities, any person who has received one or more warnings can be convicted of dangerousness and sentenced to up to four years in prison. A warning can also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person." Since the beginning of 1999, CPJ has documented three cases in which journalists were jailed or threatened with jail because of "dangerousness."
On January 15, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Ciego de Avila correspondent of the independent agency CubaPress, was summoned before the local chief of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR). He received a warning for "dangerousness" because he was not working for a state company.
On January 18, Hirán González, CubaPress correspondent in the province of Cienfuegos, was summoned to the headquarters of the PNR in the town Aguada de Pasajeros. State Security officer Vladimir Castillo told González, "I'm going to put you in prison if you keep on passing news to Radio Martí," a reference to the US-funded radio station that broadcasts into Cuba. The journalist was threatened with a trial for "dangerousness."
On January 18, Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, executive director of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes (CAPI), was arrested at his home in the town of Morón, Ciego de Avila Province, by officers of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR). On January 19, Díaz Hernández was convicted of "dangerousness" and sentenced to four years in prison by the Morón Municipal Court. He had previously received six warnings for "dangerousness." Díaz Hernández, who started a hunger strike and refused to drink water after his detention, appealed the conviction. After a summary session on January 22, the Provincial Court in Ciego de Avila confirmed Díaz Hernández's sentence even though he was not permitted to have his attorney present (he was represented by a state-appointed lawyer). Díaz Hernández ended his hunger strike and began to take liquids on January 28. Today, he is being held in solitary confinement in Canaleta Prison in Morón.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, we believe that the systematic crackdown on the independent press in Cuba is a clear violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression including the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." To jail those who exercise this liberty is a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration, which states, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." The lack of a fair trial, due process, or even the basic presumption of innocence exposes the manner in which Cuban law is used as a bludgeon against the independent media.
We believe that the recent crackdown is a response to the increased coverage by the independent press of public protests, marches, religious processions, and trials of dissidents charged with crimes against the state. CPJ has documented the following cases that have given rise to this concern:
Three State Security officers detained Havana Press correspondents Jesús Díaz Loyola, Lázaro Rodríguez Torres, and María del Carmen Carro Gómez and Havana Press director Jorge Olivera on January 6 in order to prevent them from covering
the appeal hearing of political dissident Lázaro Constantín Durán, who was convicted in December and sentenced to four years in prison for "dangerousness." Olivera and Carro were released after several hours; Loyola and Rodríguez were held overnight and released on January 7.
On January 13, two State Security officers detained CubaPress correspondent Odalys Ivette Curbelo Sánchez for several hours and warned her not to cover any street demonstrations. That same day, two State Security officers detained María de los Angeles González Amaro, director of the Unión de Periodistas y Escritores Cubanos Independientes (UPECI) and detained her for two days in order to prevent her from covering a planned march on January 13 commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.
UPECI correspondent Nancy Sotolongo León, UPECI photographer Santiago Martínez Trujillo, and Angel Pablo Polanco of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes (CPI) were detained just prior to the January 25 procession marking the one-year anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II. On the day of the procession, two State Security officers warned UPECI director González Amaro not to cover the procession. She defied the warning and was detained on January 26. She was released along with the three other detained journalists on January 29.
CubaPress correspondent Pedro Argüelles Morán was arrested in Ciego de Avila on January 27 preventing him from covering the celebration of the 146th anniversary of the birth of José Martí on January 28. Argüelles Morán was released on January 29.
The pattern of arrests suggests to us a systematic campaign on the part of the government to thwart the work of Cuba's independent press, in violation of international law. The conviction of Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández brings to four the number of journalists currently incarcerated in Cuba. We call on Your Excellency to immediately release all of them, because, under international law, they have committed no crime. In addition, we believe that the prosecution of Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández violated his basic right to a presumption of innocence. We urge you to amend the legislation regarding "dangerousness" to bring it into accord with international norms.
Ann K. Cooper
cc: The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, Foreign Minister, Canada
Raymond Chrétien, Canadian Ambassador to the United States
Santiago A. Canton, Special Rapporteur For Freedom of Expression (OAS)
American Newspaper Publisher Association
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Article 19 (United Kingdom)
Artikel 19 (The Netherlands)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Inter American Press Association
International Association of Broadcasting
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Newspaper Publishers
International Journalism Institute
International Press Institute
National Association of Black Journalists
National Press Club
Newspaper Association of America
The Newspaper Guild
North American National Broadcasters Association
Reporters Sans Frontières
Overseas Press Club
The Society of Professional Journalists
World Press Freedom Committee