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Six years after Cuba's notorious "Primavera Negra" ("Black Spring") crackdown on journalists and other accused dissenters, the country continues to trample on free expression. Cuba jails more journalists than any other country but China.

In the "Black Spring" crackdown six years ago this week, 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists, were convicted on treason charges and sentenced to a collective 1,500 years in jail during trials that didn't even last a whole day. Many had their appeals dismissed.

Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience, and the EU responded by imposing sanctions on Cuba, including a ban on high-ranking official visits by Cuban authorities to EU countries. The ban was suspended last year provided that Cuba improves its human rights record, which will be reviewed annually starting in June.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN and other IFEX members are urging President Raul Castro to free the more than 20 journalists who remain behind bars.

"Raul Castro has had a year to make a break with the past and free journalists and others who were jailed on outlandish charges," IPI said. "President Castro's recent cabinet shuffle and his diplomatic overtures may show promise, but his government will remain an international pariah until he takes concrete steps to free journalists and other prisoners of conscience."

Among those imprisoned is Omar Rodríguez Saludes, who was arrested on 18 March 2003 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for "acting against the independence or territorial integrity of the state," says IPI. He received the longest sentence of all the journalists charged in the crackdown.

Another journalist, Ricardo González Alfonso, is a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He was sentenced to jail for 20 years for being a "mercenary" funded by the U.S. and is seeking early release for medical reasons.

As President since February 2008, Raul Castro has taken some steps to improve free expression, say the IFEX members, such as allowing Cubans to buy mobile phones and their own computer equipment. But the Cuban government continues to own and control all media outlets, and journalists are constantly harassed and jailed.

Since October 2008, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has recorded 85 violations against journalists, including fines, layoffs, confiscation of money and work materials, detentions, deportations to the province of origin, phone wiretaps, interceptions of correspondence and Internet blackouts.

According to CPJ, to date, no international humanitarian organisations have visited any of the imprisoned Cuban journalists. Nor has the Cuban government ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides "the right to freedom of expression," or the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, both signed in February 2008.

To mark the sixth anniversary of Cuba's Black Spring and World Poetry Day (21 March), WiPC produced a postcard calling on the Cuban authorities to release the dissidents. It features lines from a poem by former imprisoned writer Ángel Cuadra, now president of the Cuban Writers in Exile PEN Centre.

You are invited to print copies of the postcard and to sign and send as many as possible throughout 2009. The postcard, available in Spanish and English, can be downloaded here:

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- IPI:
- IPI's Justice Denied Campaign:
- RSF:
- WiPC's case list of jailed writers in Cuba:
(25 March 2009)

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