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RSF urges action on behalf of Ricardo González Alfonso, other imprisoned journalists after EU sanctions lifted

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is appealing to Raúl Castro's government to make a gesture in favour of the organisation's correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, and other imprisoned journalists in return for the European Union's (EU) 23 June 2008 decision to lift the political sanctions it had imposed on Cuba. The Cuban government had made the lifting of the sanctions a condition of restoring normal relations with the EU.

"There have been a few advances in freedom of expression and information since Raúl Castro took over as council of state president on 24 February, with Cubans being given the right to buy their own computer equipment or enter tourist hotels that have better Internet connections," RSF said. "The dialogue begun by the Spanish government undoubtedly contributed to this, just as it led to the release in February of independent journalist Alejandro González Raga and two other detainees from the 2003 'Black Spring'."

The press freedom organisation added that "a similar gesture is now needed with regard to the 23 other journalists who are still imprisoned, 19 of whom have been held since the March 2003 crackdown. The EU sanctions imposed after the crackdown, which were suspended in 2005, have now been definitively lifted. The Cuban government got its way, so there is no longer any excuse for sidestepping the call for an improvement in human rights and free expression."

As well as being RSF's Cuba correspondent, González Alfonso is also the founder of the Manuel Márquez Sterling journalists' association and the independent magazine "De Cuba". He was arrested on 18 March 2003 and was given a 20 year prison sentence on the absurd charge of being a "mercenary" in the pay of the United States. He has been held in Havana's Combinado del Este prison since the end of 2004. Now aged 58, he suffers from high blood pressure and cervical arthritis, and has problems with his circulation and digestion. After a long spell in the prison hospital and a total of four operations in 2006 and 2007, he was returned to his cell on 27 January 2008, although he was still in very poor health.

His wife, Alida Viso Bello, told RSF on 23 June that for the past month he has not been getting the Captopril medicine that heart doctors prescribed for his high blood pressure, and he is experiencing frequent arthritis attacks because he does not have an appropriate chair in his cell. Viso Bello never got a reply to the request she submitted in February for him to be released on health grounds.

With a total of 23 journalists detained, Cuba continues to be the world's biggest prison for the media, after China. It is the only country in the western hemisphere that not does permit any form of media that is not under direct government control.

Updates the González Alfonso case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/81843

For further information on the González Raga case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90930

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