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Four Cuban dissidents - including two journalists - were released and flown into exile in Spain after spending years behind bars for their political beliefs.

Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos, Omar Pernet Hernández and journalists Jose Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro González Raga were released on 16 February, a few days after a meeting between Spanish and Cuban diplomats in Madrid. The four were among 75 dissidents arrested in a government crackdown on the opposition and the independent press in March 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says that at least 55 of the "Group of 75" are still in jail.

Ramón Castillo, director of the news agency Instituto Cultura y Democracia Press in eastern Santiago de Cuba, and González Raga, a freelance reporter from the central Camagüey province, had been sentenced to 20 years and 14 years respectively for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." According to CPJ, they reported on news ignored by Cuba's official media, and filed stories by phone and fax to overseas news outlets.

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) says the exact reasons for their release are unknown. Some press reports imply they were freed on medical grounds, but at a press conference on 19 February in Madrid, the journalists said they were unaware of why they were freed. There is also no indication that their release is linked to Fidel Castro's retirement announcement.

CPJ says that with at least 22 other journalists behind bars, Cuba continues to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Nineteen of the journalists were detained in March 2003.

The Spanish foreign minister announced on 15 February that 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.

IFEX members CPJ, WiPC, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) are calling for the unconditional release of the other independent journalists still behind bars in Cuba. WiPC is asking that you send appeals to the Cuban government, whose contact details can be found on WiPC's webpage (listed below).

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- WiPC:
- RSF:
- Human Rights Watch, "Fidel Castro's Abusive Machinery Remains Intact",
(26 February 2008)

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