Cuba - Call for more releases after four dissidents, including a journalist, are freed



    MONTREAL, Feb. 18 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders welcomes the
release on 15 February of four dissidents who were arrested during the "Black
Spring" crackdown of March 2003. They include independent journalist Alejandro
Gonzalez Raga, 48, who was serving a 14-year prison sentence. The four arrived
in Madrid yesterday afternoon.
    The press freedom organisation hails the role played by the Spanish
government in mediating with the Cuban authorities and hopes that all the
other dissident journalists detained in Cuba will soon be released even though
it means a one-way ticket into exile.
    "The dialogue initiated with the Cuban government by Spanish Prime
Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and foreign minister Miguel Angel
Moratinos - inevitably a difficult one when it concerns human rights - is
beginning to bear fruit," Reporters Without Borders said. "The release of
these four could soon be followed by the release of three others, and we
welcome this."
    The press freedom organisation added: "This gesture by the Cuban
government comes just a week before the appointment of a new Council of State,
its executive brach, which could confirm Raul Castro as president, a post he
has held in an interim capacity since July 2006. But we must not forget that
23 Cuban journalists continue to languish in prison simply for doing their job
without permission from a government that does not tolerate any independent
press. We also point out that these latest releases condemned their
beneficiaries to exile."
    Omar Pernet Hernandez, 62, Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, 59, José Gabriel
Ramon Castillo, 50, and the journalist Gonzalez were released on health
grounds. Pernet and Alvarez had been serving 25-year prison sentences.
Castillo had been serving a 20-year sentence.
    A native of the central province of Camaguey, where he had been serving
his sentence, Gonzalez used to write for a small, Camaguey-based independent
news agency. When arrested, he was accused of "undermining Cuba's independence
and territorial integrity," the charge that was used as a pretext for imposing
prison sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years on a total of 27 dissident
journalists. They included Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo
Gonzalez Alfonso, the founder and editor of the independent magazine De Cuba,
who is still serving a 20-year sentence in Havana's Combinado del Este prison.
Castillo, one of the four dissidents released on 15 February, was joint editor
of Fueros, a social and cultural magazine, as well as running the Culture and
Democracy Institute in the eastern city of Santiago.
    The four freed dissidents were reunited with their families when they
landed in Madrid. Shortly after their arrival, they talked with Raul Rivero,
the founder of the Cuba Press agency, who was also arrested in the "Black
Spring" crackdown and who has been living in Madrid since his release in April
2005. They also met with representatives of the Spanish section of Reporters
Without Borders. They are not in good health and are to examined by doctors.
Today, they were due to be received at the office of the Spanish prime
minister.
    As the Spanish foreign minister announced on 15 February, three other
"Black Spring" dissidents are due to be freed soon on humanitarian grounds and
to leave the country. All three are journalists whose families are living in
exile in the United States.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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