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IPI's Cuban "Justice Denied" journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes freed, lands in Madrid

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 14 July 2010 - IPI's Cuban 'Justice Denied' journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes has been freed from prison in Cuba and has landed in Madrid, his uncle, Miguel Saludes, told IPI by phone from Miami on Wednesday.

Rodriguez's arrival in Spain brings to at least seven the number of journalists who have travelled there after being released in recent days from Cuban prisons.

Several other dissidents were expected to touch down in Madrid today or tomorrow.

They are among 52 dissidents imprisoned after Cuba's notorious Black Spring crackdown in 2003 whom the Cuban authorities agreed to release following an initiative by the Catholic Church and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

"This is not how we wanted this to happen," said Rodriguez's uncle, Miguel. "Now we have no more family in Cuba, we are all dispersed. But freedom is important."

Miguel said he believed Rodriguez landed in the Spanish capital at 5 a.m. this morning and was accompanied by at least one other freed dissident.

The Spanish foreign ministry has listed the names of the dissidents due to arrive in Spain today and tomorrow as Omar Rodriguez, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, Luis Milan and Mijail Barzaga.

On Tuesday, a flight carrying journalists Lester Gonzalez, Pablo Pacheco, Omar Ruiz, Julio Cesar Galvez and Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, as well as political dissident Antonio Villarreal, arrived in Madrid. A second plane, carrying journalist Ricardo Gonzalez and his family, arrived shortly afterwards.

In all, 20 of the 52 dissidents expected to be freed have opted to move to Spain with their families. Spain has stated that it will accept all dissidents and their families who choose to leave Cuba.

IPI Director David Dadge said: "We are very pleased to hear of the release of our Justice Denied journalist, Omar Rodriguez Saludes, as well as of the other journalists and dissidents. However, if this is to represent a new start for the Cuban government, then releasing 52 dissidents while dozens more are left behind bars is far from being acceptable. Everyone imprisoned in Cuba simply for expressing critical views must be freed immediately."

Meanwhile, Blanca Rivero, a representative of the Ladies in White movement - formed by the female relatives of imprisoned dissidents - warned: "The freeing of these persons that have come out of the Cuban 'inferno' doesn't mean that there will be any positive change. The problem is that the Cuban government is completely desperate due to its terrible economic situation. This is a favour that the Spanish government [which enjoys reasonable ties] with Cuba has done."

She added that the Ladies in White were not being allowed to enter Madrid's airport to receive the dissidents.

Blanca Rivero's husband, Raul Rivero, a Cuban dissident, was arrested in 2003 and later freed as a result of international pressure.

IPI, through its Justice Denied Campaign, has been campaigning for many years for the release of the journalists arrested in Cuba's Black Spring crackdown, in particular Rodriguez Saludes, who was handed the longest sentence given to any journalist arrested at the time.

The journalists, along with owners of private libraries and members of illegal opposition political parties, were arrested in March 2003 as part of a major government move against dissidents. Nearly 80 people were arrested in the sweep; most remain in prison. Between 3 and 7 April of that year, the 29 journalists arrested were handed down jail sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code, which provides for prison sentences or the death penalty for those who act against "the independence or territorial integrity of the State."

IPI's Justice Denied Campaign highlights the case of Omar Rodriguez Saludes, director of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana, who was arrested on the night of 18 March 2003, and eventually sentenced to 27 years in prison. In September 2009, in an unprecedented ruling, a United States federal judge ordered the Cuban Communist Party and the government of Raul Castro to pay a total of US$27.5 million to the mother of the jailed journalist.
Click here to listen to an interview with Saludes' wife
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