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Four dissidents arrested during "Black Spring", including a journalist, released

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders welcomes the release on 15 February 2008 of four dissidents who were arrested during the "Black Spring" crackdown of March 2003. They include independent journalist Alejandro González Raga, 48, who was serving a 14-year prison sentence. The four arrived in Madrid on the afternoon of 17 February.

The press freedom organisation hails the role played by the Spanish government in mediating with the Cuban authorities and hopes that all the other dissident journalists detained in Cuba will soon be released even though it means a one-way ticket into exile.

"The dialogue initiated with the Cuban government by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos - inevitably a difficult one when it concerns human rights - is beginning to bear fruit," Reporters Without Borders said. "The release of these four could soon be followed by the release of three others, and we welcome this."

The press freedom organisation added: "This gesture by the Cuban government comes just a week before the appointment of a new Council of State, its executive branch, which could confirm Raúl Castro as president, a post he has held in an interim capacity since July 2006. But we must not forget that 23 Cuban journalists continue to languish in prison simply for doing their job without permission from a government that does not tolerate any independent press. We also point out that these latest releases condemned their beneficiaries to exile."

Omar Pernet Hernández, 62, Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, 59, José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, 50, and the journalist González were released on health grounds. Pernet and Alvarez had been serving 25-year prison sentences. Castillo had been serving a 20-year sentence.

A native of the central province of Camagüey, where he had been serving his sentence, González used to write for a small, Camagüey-based independent news agency. When arrested, he was accused of "undermining Cuba's independence and territorial integrity," the charge that was used as a pretext for imposing prison sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years on a total of 27 dissident journalists. They included Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, the founder and editor of the independent magazine "De Cuba", who is still serving a 20-year sentence in Havana's Combinado del Este prison. Castillo, one of the four dissidents released on 15 February, was joint editor of "Fueros", a social and cultural magazine, as well as running the Culture and Democracy Institute in the eastern city of Santiago.

The four freed dissidents were reunited with their families when they landed in Madrid. Shortly after their arrival, they talked with Raúl Rivero, the founder of the Cuba Press agency, who was also arrested in the "Black Spring" crackdown and who has been living in Madrid since his release in April 2005. They also met with representatives of the Spanish section of Reporters Without Borders. They are not in good health and are to be examined by doctors. They were due to be received at the office of the Spanish prime minister on 18 February.

As the Spanish foreign minister announced on 15 February, three other "Black Spring" dissidents are due to be freed soon on humanitarian grounds and to leave the country. All three are journalists whose families are living in exile in the United States.

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