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RSF denounces confirmation of heavy prison sentences against two arrested journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - On 5 June 2003, RSF denounced the Cuban Supreme Court's confirmation of sentences against two of the 26 independent journalists who were arrested in late March and later jailed for lengthy terms. On 3 June, the court upheld a sentence of 26 years for Miguel Galván Gutiérrez and 16 years for José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández.

"We greatly regret that the Cuban government refuses to listen to international protests calling for the release of the 26 journalists and 50 other dissidents arrested at the same time," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard.

"We fear now that the sentences against the other imprisoned journalists will also be confirmed. The government is going down an increasingly repressive blind alley, as demonstrated by the heavy sentences of up to 28 years in prison for simple opinion offences."

Ménard also denounced new restrictions on the jailed journalists' families, most of whom are only being allowed to visit them once every three months instead of every three weeks, as the regulations allow. This is in addition to their transfer to prisons hundreds of kilometres from their homes, making visits difficult and expensive.

The website cubanet.org reported on 21 May that journalist Pedro Argüelles Morán's wife was only told after she arrived at the prison in Santa Clara (west-central Cuba) to visit him that he had been transferred to a prison in Combinado del Este (Havana), an additional 270 km from his home in Morón. On 3 June, the Russian news agency Prima News reported that journalist Adolfo Fernández Sainz and several other jailed dissidents had begun a hunger strike to demand the right to see their families more often.

The detention conditions of several of the journalists are very bad and at least five are reportedly ill. RSF said it was especially worried about Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who has serious liver problems and internal bleeding, and called for his transfer to a hospital in Havana. On 31 May, after strong international protests, he was taken from the prison in Guantanamo to a hospital in Santiago.

His wife Miriam Leiva called the transfer a "farce" because health care at the hospital is no better than at the prison, where officials did not even give him the medicine she had brought for him. She continues to call for his transfer to a Havana hospital. The appeal of his 20-year sentence was heard on 4 June and is awaiting judgment.

In May, security officials threatened a dozen independent journalists with heavy prison sentences if they continued their activities despite the crackdown.

See full details of the imprisoned Cuban journalists' ordeal on RSF's website, www.rsf.org ("Cuba: the world's biggest prison for journalists").

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