From the International Press Institute (IPI):
Seven Years on, No Sign of Justice for Cuba's Jailed Journalists
On 7th Anniversary of 27-Year Prison Sentence for Omar Rodriguez Saludes, IPI Repeats Call for his Immediate Release
Today marks the seventh anniversary of the sentencing of Cuban journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes to 27 years in prison, the longest sentence handed down to any of the journalists charged during Cuba's notorious 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown against the media.
More than 29 journalists were arrested in the roundups that began on 18 March 2003, according to IPI's Justice Denied Campaign, which highlights cases of imprisoned journalists and impunity in crimes against journalists worldwide. At least two other journalists have been arrested in the years since the crackdown.
Saludes was one of those arrested on 18 March 2003 and three weeks later, on 5 April, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for "acting against the independence or territorial integrity of the State." It was the longest sentence handed down to any of the journalists charged in the crackdown.
Rodriguez was head of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana at the time of his arrest. He was known for his reports about political repression under the regime of Fidel Castro, the island nation's ailing former leader and elder brother of the current president. Friends and family members say Rodriguez is housed in the crowded Toledo Prison in the capital, and today suffers from health problems.
In July last year, IPI spoke to Rodriguez's wife, Ileana Marrero Joa, and to his uncle, Miguel Saludes, about the terrible conditions of his imprisonment and the difficulties of being an independent journalist in Cuba today.
In September 2009, in an unprecedented ruling, a United States federal judge ordered the Cuban Communist Party and the government of Raul Castro to pay a total of US$27.5 million to the mother of the jailed journalist.
Dozens of people were jailed on treason-related charges in the sweeping crackdown launched by the Castro regime in the spring of 2003. Despite condemnations from the United Nations, foreign governments and human rights groups, many remain behind bars.
Seven years after the crackdown on journalists and other accused dissenters, the country continues to trample on free expression and remains a leading jailer of journalists, with more than 20 reporters and news managers behind bars.
As of March 2010, at least four dissidents and human rights activists were on hunger strike in Cuba. Political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 85-day hunger strike on Feb 24 2010. In the month since then, three other dissidents have also gone on hunger strikes to demand that President Raul Castro's government release political detainees. One of the dissidents, Coco Fariñas is demanding, among other things, the end of "government violence against our people, against bloggers and independent journalists."
"The Cuban authorities should release Saludes immediately, and allow him to return to his family and friends", said IPI Director David Dadge. "Saludes' imprisonment is excessive and unjust, and we demand that Cuba desist from its campaign of harassment against dissidents and journalists, and enable the Cuban people to freely express themselves."
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