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Journalist sentenced to four years in prison as "pre-criminal social danger"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the jailing of Oscar Sánchez Madan, a Matanzas province correspondent for the Miami-based Cubanet website. Arrested on 13 April 2007 and summarily tried the same day, Sánchez was sentenced to four years in prison as a "pre-criminal social danger." His imprisonment brings the number of independent journalists currently held in Cuba to 26.

"The total of 27 dissident journalists jailed during the 'Black Spring' of March 2003 is on the verge of being reached again following Sánchez's imprisonment," Reporters Without Borders said. "Sánchez is the third journalist to be jailed since Raúl Castro took over as acting president on 31 July. Not only has the press freedom situation not changed, but so-called 'social danger' is again being used as a pretext for imprisonment. Sánchez was even denied the right to a lawyer, so his conviction was entirely arbitrary."

Aged 44, Sánchez was a regular Cubanet contributor. He was arrested by members of the State Security (the political police) on the morning of 13 April at his home in Unión de Reyes, a small town in Matanzas province, 100 km east of Havana. His arrest remained unreported for four days, when it was reported by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Havana-based group that is illegal but tolerated by the government.

Sánchez was secretly tried by the Unión de Reyes municipal court immediately after his arrest, without members of his family attending and without even being able to have a defence lawyer. He was given a four-year sentence under a criminal code provision that allows the Cuban authorities to imprison any citizen as a potential danger to society, even if they have not committed a crime.

Two other journalists have been imprisoned as "pre-criminal social dangers" since Raúl Castro took over. They are Raymundo Perdigón Brito of the Yayabo Press agency, who was given a four-year sentence on 5 December 2006 (see IFEX alert of 6 December 2006), and Ramón Velázquez Toranso of the Libertad news agency who got a three-year sentence on 23 January 2007 (see alerts of 16 March and 5 February 2007).

Sánchez was taken to the Combinado del Sur penitentiary in Matanzas immediately after the trial.

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