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Jailed journalists begin hunger strikes

(RSF/IFEX) - 4 February 2011 - Pedro Argüelles Morán, one of four journalists jailed in Cuba, began a hunger strike on 1 February 2011 to protest against the authorities' efforts to force him into exile in exchange for giving him his freedom.

Reporters Without Borders has appealed to Pedro Argüelles Morán and another jailed journalist, Albert Santiago du Bouchet, who has also started a hunger strike, to call off their action.

"At the same time we call on the Cuban authorities to listen to reason and recognize that those journalists still in jail have the inalienable right to live in their own country and to exercise their right to disseminate information there," the press freedom organization said. "The authorities' refusal to listen is all the more incomprehensible since one of the 41 dissidents freed has been allowed to stay in Cuba. The government in Havana, bound by its international commitments in the field of human rights, cannot make its own citizens stateless."

Pedro Argüelles Morán is one of three journalists jailed since the "Black Spring" of March 2003 who remain behind bars, the others being Iván Hernández Carrillo and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. Their refusal to leave the country has kept them in jail.

Four other prisoners whose names did not originally appear on the list of those who could be freed to go to Spain starting in July 2010 have agreed to leave shortly for Madrid.

Reporters Without Borders understands that Pedro Argüelles Morán was summoned on 20 January 2011 by the director of the prison at Canaleta, in the province of Ciego de Ávila, where he is serving a jail sentence of 20 years for his opinions under the false pretext of an "espionage" accusation.

During the interview the director, aided by two state officials, tried to persuade him to leave the country as a way of getting out of prison. Pedro Argüelles Morán, almost blind and very weak after seven years in detention, refused, repeating that he was innocent, and demanded the right to stay in his country as a Cuban citizen.

He is reported to have refused to take a call from the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who negotiated the recent liberation of political prisoners with the Spanish government and Cuban authorities.

His hunger strike comes as the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo approaches. The dissident died in prison from a lack of medical care after being on a hunger strike for 80 days.

In a gesture of respect, journalist Albert Santiago du Bouchet has decided in his turn to stop eating food for 23 days, starting on 1 February. He was given a three year prison sentence for "disrespecting the authorities" in 2009.

"The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which profoundly affected international opinion, was not without influence on the process that resulted in the freeing of the dissidents," the press freedom organzation said. "A year later, do the authorities want to create other insoluble situations by giving political prisoners the choice between prison or leaving their country?"

In a separate case, Reporters Without Borders hopes to very shortly know the reasons for the arrest and detention in Cuba since 11 July 2010 of Spanish citizen Sebastián Martínez Ferrate, a former producer and freelance journalist who in 2008 produced a report on child prostitution in Cuba. He ceased his activities in 2009 well before his last visit to the country.

"Reporters Without Borders hopes, in the absence of clear explanations on the part of the Cuban authorities, that this detention is not connected to the journalistic work previously carried out by Sebastián Martínez Ferrate," the organization said. "The Cuban government has, according to our sources, apparently put forward reasons relating to national security. We have not forgotten that this type of argument has regularly been used to imprison journalists who were only carrying out their duties."

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