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IFEX MEMBERS DEMAND RELEASE OF JAILED DISSIDENTS

Five IFEX members joined worldwide calls last week for the release of 75 imprisoned journalists and dissidents in Cuba, marking the first anniversary of a sweeping government crackdown on the country's human rights activists and independent press.

On 18 March, 2004, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House issued a joint statement with five other U.S.-based human rights groups, condemning the continued imprisonment of human rights activists, independent journalists, librarians and democracy advocates.

Currently, 75 individuals are imprisoned in Cuba, including more than 25 journalists. Human Rights Watch and Freedom House also called on member states of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to pass a resolution condemning the dissidents' imprisonment.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) marked the anniversary by sending more than 600 signed appeals urging Cuban President Fidel Castro to release the country's jailed journalists, including Manuel Vásquez Portal. More than 50 of the appeals were signed by some of the most respected journalists in Latin America.

In a separate announcement, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) added its call for the release of the 75 dissidents.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) held a press conference in Brussels, announcing new initiatives to lobby governments and to raise awareness of human rights violations in Cuba. RSF invited European parliamentarians to sign a "Brussels Declaration" and pledge to lobby the Cuban government for the release of the 75 imprisoned dissidents. So far, 33 Members of the European Parliament have signed the declaration.

RSF also unveiled a new book chronicling the situation in Cuba and a poster campaign aimed at making European tourists more aware of human rights violations in the country.

RSF calls Cuba the "world's biggest prison for journalists," with up to 27 currently in jail. Reports indicate that they are being held in poor conditions in prisons far from where their families live.

For the latest updates on Cuba, visit these IFEX members' websites:

- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2004/Vazquez_Portal/Vaz_Port_news.html

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=367

- IAPA: http://www.sipiapa.com

- Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/doc/?t=americas&c=cuba

- Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/

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