Cuba: Authorities must guarantee press freedom in the COVID-19 era

In the context of World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Article 19 are sending an open letter to President Miguel Diaz-Canel urging him to take immediate measures to guarantee press freedom and protect independent journalists in Cuba.

The organizations also sent this letter in light of recent worrying reports regarding independent journalists in the country who have reportedly been fined or intimidated by state security agents because of their work.

“In the COVID-19 era it’s even more vital to guarantee freedom of the press and access to truthful and timely information. It’s shameful how the censorship of independent journalists in Cuba, which we have documented for decades, seems to be worsening in recent weeks, with complaints from independent journalists fined for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the country. No journalist should have to decide between silence or jail. We demand that the Díaz-Canel administration take immediate action to guarantee freedom of the press,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

In the open letter, the organizations demand that the Cuban authorities immediately and unconditionally release Roberto Quiñones Haces, a 63-year-old Cuban prisoner of conscience who has been held since September 2019 for practicing independent journalism and who is now at risk from COVID-19.

It’s shameful how the censorship of independent journalists in Cuba, which we have documented for decades, seems to be worsening in recent weeks, with complaints from independent journalists fined for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the country
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

“The threat of imprisonment and the imposition of fines have functioned as dissuasive and inhibiting tools for the body of independent journalists on the island. In this sense, the imprisonment of journalist Roberto Quiñones since September 2019 has become a clear warning to all critical journalists and media workers, even though there have been widespread calls for his release. Without doubt, these demands are more valid than ever today, as there is real risk of contagion with coronavirus, particularly for the elderly and even more so for those held in jails like the Guantánamo Provincial Prison, where, according to the journalist’s own testimony, the conditions are inhumane,” said Ana Cristina Ruelas, regional director of the Article 19 office for Mexico and Central America.

“Cuban authorities must release imprisoned journalist Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces and ensure that journalists on the island do not face harassment, threats, intimidation, or jail time simply for reporting facts. As long as they remain behind bars, Roberto Quiñones and other imprisoned journalists face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, as they cannot isolate, maintain social distance or follow other health guidelines. Journalism must not carry a death sentence, now or ever,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick.

The imprisonment of journalist Roberto Quiñones since September 2019 has become a clear warning to all critical journalists and media workers, even though there have been widespread calls for his release
Ana Cristina Ruelas, regional director of the Article 19 office for Mexico and Central America

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recently reiterated their concern about the state of freedom of expression in the Americas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba remains the only country in the Americas to which Amnesty International and other human rights monitoring mechanisms do not have access.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org

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