Cuba urged to respect press freedom as repression of journalists intensifies

Amnesty International today called on the Cuban authorities to end harassment of independent journalists following a month in which several reporters were arbitrarily detained and intimidated for criticizing the government. “Journalists who try to work independently of the state-owned media outlets in Cuba are being targeted with repressive tactics and spurious criminal charges – and this clampdown on freedom of expression appears to be intensifying,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.Journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias remains in detention after being arrested on 23 April by security officials who broke into the house where he was covering a memorial service for a prisoner of conscience. Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died two months earlier after several weeks on hunger strike in protest against the plight of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.Another journalist described the campaign of intimidation waged against him as “psychological torture”. Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director of an online independent newspaper, was detained on 24 April and questioned for over six hours over anti-government graffiti found in the city of Holguin. Meanwhile, news agency director Carlos Serpa Maceira was subjected to intimidation and harassment by the Cuban authorities when he tried to cover the weekly march by the activist group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) on three consecutive weekends in April. Members of the Damas de Blanco have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated by government supporters, and their weekly demonstrations were forcibly broken by police on at least two occasions. “Criminal charges, or other forms of harassment and intimidation, must not be brought against independent journalists, human rights advocates or political dissidents as a result of their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression,” said Susan Lee.There are currently 55 prisoners of conscience detained in Cuba, most of them serving long sentences for criticizing the Cuban government and advocating basic human rights. Among them are several independent journalists.Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Penal Code are so vague that the authorities have been able to use them in a way that infringes freedom of expression. The Cuban State also maintains a total control of broadcast media and the press, while access to the internet is heavily restricted.”As a result of these restrictions on freedom of expression, Cubans are unable to share independent information without facing direct repression from the authorities,” said Susan Lee.”Restrictions on access to the internet should be lifted and censorship of websites containing information and views contrary to government policies must be eliminated.”Amnesty International has urged the Cuban authorities to review all legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression and to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.