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Monday, 08 October 2012

IPI welcomes release of World Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sánchez

Arrest shows reach and power of her writing 

By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez (L) walks accompanied by her husband Reinaldo Escobar (R) after meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter on March 30, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE.

VIENNA, Oct 10, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the release of Cuban blogger and IPI World Press Freedom Yoani Sánchez, who had been detained by Cuban authorities on Thursday evening while attempting to cover the trial of a Spanish activist accused of causing the death of a well-known dissident in a car crash.

Sánchez was released on Friday evening after spending 30 hours in custody and reportedly being the target of violence. “A little feminine vanity: no remember me without a tooth, remember me flying free on blue bird of Twitter, complete!” Sánchez tweeted, in reference to her having had a tooth knocked out during the ordeal.

The blogger explained in a post on Sunday that she had travelled to Bayamo, in eastern Cuba, to attend the trial of Angel Carromero, a Spanish politician who had crashed his rental car into a tree in July, killing Oswaldo Paya and another dissident, Herold Cepero.

The Cuban government has claimed Carromero had been speeding at the time, an allegation that Carromero, the leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, denies. Paya’s family has called publicly for Carromero’s release and has indicated they do not believe the government’s version of events. 

According to Sánchez, an official stopped a car carrying her and husband Reinaldo Escobar on the outskirts of Bayamo and said, “You want to disrupt the court” before arresting them both.  Sánchez wrote that the incident “had the scale of an arrest against a gang of drug traffickers, or the capture of a prolific serial murderer.”

After reportedly being forced to strip by female guards, Sánchez refused food and drink in what she called a “stage set”, constantly surrounded by state cameramen. 

Since founding the critical blog Generación Y in 2007, Sánchez has drawn the ire of Cuban authorities on numerous occasions.  In November 2009, she reported that she had been abducted and beaten by unnamed officials.  Authorities have also repeatedly denied her an exit visa to leave Cuba. 

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “While we certainly welcome the release of IPI World Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sánchez, she should never have been detained in the first place.  The Cuban government’s fear of her presence at the trial testifies to the reach and power of her writing, which provides a tremendously important glimpse into what is otherwise a closed world.  We call upon the Cuban government to end its harassment of independent voices and to allow the development of a private press.”

IPI named Sánchez one of its 60 World Press Freedom Heroes in 2010, calling her blog an example of “a future where the power of the internet can be harnessed to promote free speech.”

Detaining activists for brief periods before releasing them is a common tactic used by Cuban authorities.  In September, IPI reported on the arrest and beating of Roberto de Jesús Guerra, editor of the news website Hablemos Press, along with one of the site’s photographers.

Another journalist working for Hablemos Press, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, has been in custody since Sept. 16 and stands accused of insulting Fidel and Ramón Castro under the country’s desacato or contempt of authority laws.  IPI has repeatedly called for Martínez’s release and for the dropping of all criminal charges.