CUBA - Reporters Without Borders releases its report : No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from "black spring"

    MONTREAL, March 14 /CNW Telbec/ - As Razl Castro was formally invested as
Cuban head of state in the last week of February 2008, a Reporters Without
Borders' special correspondent was in Cuba examining the state of press
freedom, five years after the "black spring" of March 2003. On the eve of the
fifth anniversary of this unprecedented crackdown which made Cuba the world's
second largest prison for journalists, the worldwide press freedom
organisation - banned from visiting Cuba - releases the report of this visit.
    Five years after "black spring" in which 27 journalists were arrested and
unfairly sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison, 19
of them are still in jail in very harsh conditions. Among them, Ricardo
Gonzalez Alfonso, former editor of the magazine De Cuba and correspondent for
the organisation, sentenced to 20 years, who in February was sent back to his
cell in Combinado del Este jail in Havana after a long stay in the jail's
military hospital. Also victims of "black spring" and "adopted" by several
foreign media, independent journalist Fabio Prieto Llorente, and Miguel Galvan
Gutiérrez, of the Havana Press agency - respectively serving 20 and 26 years,
continue to suffer, like most of their colleagues in the same situation,
solitary confinement, denial of medical care and restrictions to family
visits. To the 19 journalists imprisoned in March 2003, four more have been
added since 2005, three of them after Razl Castro succeeded his brother,
temporarily at first, on 31 July 2006.
    The report also stresses the extreme difficulties for those not in prison
to manage to work as journalists in a country in which the state has a
monopoly on news, printing and broadcasting. It also reveals however that the
independent Cuban press has done better than just survive the "black spring"
which almost crushed it. A new generation born out of an emerging civil
society, has taken over websites and the very few underground magazines,
people like the blogger Yoani Sanchez. These new networks, made up of young
people who have only known the Castroist regime, are trying to use their own
resources to develop an alternative press addressed directly to their
compatriots within Cuba, the independent media only managing to express itself
to the Cuban diaspora.
    Would these developments be possible without the change at the highest
level of state? Probably not. The Razl Castro presidency has done nothing to
improve human rights in the country, but some gestures have been made. The
release, on 15 February 2008, of independent journalist Alejandro Gonzalez
Raga and three other dissidents, also imprisoned during the "black spring"
constituted a first sign of openness. Another came three days later after Razl
Castro's investiture, when Cuba on 27 February signed two UN pacts, one on
economic, social and cultural rights and the other on civil and political
rights. The 13 March announcement of the lifting of restrictions on individual
acquisition of computer equipment also represents a very positive step.
    Reporters Without Borders notes these first signs of change and supports
in this regard talks begun by the Spanish government to secure the release of
the 23 imprisoned journalists. The organisation also calls on the US
government to life restrictions on communications which obstruct access for
Cubans within the country to the Internet and contacts between local
journalists and the foreign-based media they work for. Finally, it urges EU
embassies in Havana to further open their doors to the dissident press. This
request particularly relates to France which takes over the rotating
presidency of the EU from 1st July 2008. These recommendations will however
get nowhere as long as the Cuban government has not honoured the clauses in
the UN pacts which it has just signed.
    On the occasion of the publication of this report, Reporters Without
Borders wishes to express its deepest sympathy for Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta,
of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO), sentenced during "black
spring" to 20 years in prison, whose former wife and his daughter died in an
accident in Guantanamo, eastern Cuba on 12 March 2008.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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