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CUBA: RELEASE JAILED JOURNALISTS, IFEX MEMBERS URGE CASTRO

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are appealing to President Raúl Castro to unconditionally release all jailed journalists in Cuba now that the European Union has lifted diplomatic sanctions on the socialist country.

The EU lifted the sanctions, in place since 2003 after Fidel Castro's crackdown on political dissidents, on 23 June, saying it was ready to open dialogue with Cuba on "all topics of mutual interest."

But five years after Fidel's infamous March 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown - 75 dissidents were sentenced to a collective 1,500 years in jail in trials that didn't even last a whole day - at least 22 journalists remain behind bars. Cuba holds the title of the world's second-leading jailer of journalists after China, say the IFEX members.

One of the journalists, Ricardo González Alfonso, is an RSF correspondent. Like at least 18 others who are still in jail, González was arrested in the "Black Spring". He was sentenced to jail for 20 years for being a "mercenary" funded by the U.S. Being jailed under inhumane conditions has taken a toll on his health and his wife has been appealing for an early release on medical grounds.

According to CPJ, Cuba has used imprisoned journalists and dissidents as political leverage. In February, just months after Spain announced it was resuming relations with Cuba, four prisoners were freed, including two independent journalists.

The EU also called for freedom of information and expression for all Cubans, including through the Internet. With Raúl Castro as President, there have been some advances in freedom of expression, says RSF, including Cubans being able to buy their own computer equipment or enter tourist hotels that have better Internet connections. But the Cuban government continues to own and control all media outlets, and journalists are constantly harassed and jailed, says CPJ.

The EU announced that relations with Cuba will be reviewed annually, starting in June 2009, and that it could re-impose sanctions at any time if human rights do not improve.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/3sy2ck
- CPJ report, "Cuba's Long, Black Spring" (March 2008): http://www.cpj.org/blackspring/index.html
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27627
- RSF report, "Cuba: No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from 'Black Spring'" (March 2008): http://tinyurl.com/3gno5r
- PEN American Center: http://tinyurl.com/3u4su3
(2 July 2008)

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