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"Black Spring" journalist released against his wishes

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez
Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez

A Cuban journalist who had refused to leave prison until all political prisoners were freed was released against his will last week as the Cuban government continues to free opposition activists and journalists arrested during a notorious crackdown in 2003, report the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) and other IFEX members.

Journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was freed under a special parole programme on 12 February, after almost eight years in prison. He was jailed in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown, in which 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 day.

Maseda's wife, Laura Pollán, who leads Cuba's leading opposition group Ladies in White, told reporters that Maseda objects to parole - in which his 20-year-sentence has not been lifted - and has sought a pardon instead. Parole conditions could be used to harass or re-arrest a detainee, notes CPJ. He also called for ailing dissidents to be immediately released.

President Raul Castro agreed in July 2010 to release the 52 dissidents who were still in prison as part of a deal brokered with the Catholic Church and Spain. It was hailed the biggest release of political prisoners in more than a decade. The process was expected to take four months but has stretched out to more than seven.

Initially only those who agreed to go into exile in Spain were freed. According to CPJ, exile from Cuba was not a condition of the agreement, but all of the 17 journalists released before Maseda were immediately flown to Spain with their families.

With Maseda's release, three journalists remain imprisoned in Cuba. Pedro Argüelles Morán and Iván Hernández Carrillo are among a handful of remaining journalists detained in the 2003 crackdown who expressed their desire to stay in Cuba upon release. The third journalist, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, was imprisoned in April 2009.

Argüelles and Santiago started a hunger strike on 1 February to protest against their incarceration. Argüelles is reportedly in ill health.

In a letter to Spain's President, CPJ wrote, "The extended delay in their release not only undermines Cuba's credibility; it erodes Spain's grounds for calling on the European Union states to normalise relations with Cuba. CPJ urges you to press President Castro to release all jailed journalists without further delay. "

In another positive development, access to about 40 dissident blogs and Internet pages - including Yoani Sánchez's Generación Y - has been unblocked since 9 February, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Press reports quoted Sánchez as saying the easing of online censorship may have been due to an information technology trade fair being held in Havana from 7 to 11 February.

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