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Journalist charged after writing about cholera and dengue in Cuba

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, September 21, 2012 - A charge of criminal contempt brought against Cuban independent journalist Calixto Martínez Arias for warning about cases of cholera and dengue in his country was today protested by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). If found guilty he could face three years in prison.

The hemisphere organization called for the immediate release of Martínez Arias, a reporter with the independent news agency Hablemos Press, who was arrested on Sunday (September 16) near Havana's international airport as he was investigating another piece of information regarding a shipment of medicines and medical equipment donated by the World Health Organization understood to have been damaged due to negligence and poor warehousing conditions.

In June this year Martínez Arias had disclosed the existence of an outbreak of cholera and in August he warned of the appearance of cases of dengue on the island – information that was known by local residents before the government publicly admitted it.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, expressed condemnation of the arrest and detention. He declared, “It is a contradiction that a journalist faces the possibility of gong to jail for reporting on matters of public interest, while on the contrary the information should be taken as an alert to correct a problem affecting the population.” He added that “as we have been denouncing on repeated occasions control of information that is disseminated in Cuba continues unchangeably in the hands of the government.”

Roberto de Jesús Guerra, the director of Hablemos Press, and Veizant Boloy, a lawyer and collaborator of the agency, said that Martínez Arias is being held at a police station in Havana, where they were able to visit him and confirm that he had been beaten. Shortly afterwards Guerra and Boloy were themselves detained and later released.

Martínez Arias, the victim of repeated arrests so far this year, is accused of contempt of Fidel and Raúl Castro, a criminal offense under Article 144.1 of the Penal Code referring to threats and various offenses uttered by word of mouth or in writing against authorities, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, announced that as part of its twice-yearly review of the state of press freedom in the Americas the IAPA will take an in-depth look at the case of Cuba during its General Assembly to be held October 12-16 in São Paulo, Brazil.

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