Time for Spain to Press Castro

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
A letter to the Spanish government from the Committee to Protect Journalists:

February 9, 2011

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
President of the Government of Spain
Palacio de La Moncloa
Madrid, Spain

Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217

Dear President Rodríguez Zapatero:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that the Cuban government has yet to fulfill its promise to free all journalists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown on dissent. We urge your government, which was a key party to the agreement to release the prisoners by November 2010, to hold President Raúl Castro to his word.

We are further concerned by reports last week that imprisoned journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández have initiated a hunger strike to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners. Argüelles, 63, who has been in prison since 2003, is in poor health.

After negotiations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, President Castro's administration agreed on July 7, 2010, to release "within three to four months," all 52 prisoners who were still jailed from the 2003 crackdown, the church said in a statement issued that day. Your government played an important role in facilitating those talks. Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced the same month that "the agreement with the Cuban authorities is that all political prisoners will be released from prison."

CPJ welcomed the subsequent release of 17 journalists, and wishes to thank you and your government for your sustained efforts in securing the freedom of the journalists and in offering them safe harbor in Spain with their families.

However, with nine of the 52 political prisoners still behind bars three months after the deadline for their release, the Cuban government has so far failed to fulfill its commitment.

These detainees have expressed a desire to stay in Cuba upon release and have refused immediate deportation to Spain, the reporters' families told CPJ. Exile from the island was not stated as a condition of the Cuban government's agreement to release political prisoners; however, CPJ research indicates that all of 17 freed journalists were immediately flown to Spain with their families. (At least three have since relocated, one to Chile and two to the United States.)

In July, Moratinos announced in the Spanish parliament that Spain would receive "free people who freely choose to come to Spain," but noted that "the commitment we have from Raúl Castro is that [former prisoners] would be able to return to the island." On Friday, a dissident imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown, Guido Sigler, was permitted to remain in Cuba upon his release, the BBC reported. While CPJ considers this a positive development, President Castro should respect his commitment to release all political prisoners without exile as a condition.

Those still jailed from the 2003 crackdown include three journalists: Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, and Pedro Argüelles Morán, all of whom suffer chronic health problems. CPJ has also called for the release of Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, who was jailed in 2009 on charges of "disrespect" and distribution of enemy propaganda. Du Bouchet Hernández, who is serving a three-year sentence, has been subjected to beatings in prison.

Three months have passed since the November deadline for Cuban authorities to free the remaining dissidents. Without signs of an imminent release, the journalists in prison are putting their health in jeopardy to draw attention to their plight. The extended delay in their release not only undermines Cuba's credibility; it erodes Spain's grounds for calling on the European Union states to normalize relations with Cuba. CPJ urges you to press President Castro to release all jailed journalists without further delay.

Thank you for your attention on this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director