Wave of journalist arrests in Cuba
Government continues arbitrary prosecutions of media
By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean
VIENNA, Nov 12, 2012 – International Press Institute (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sánchez and prominent opposition journalist and attorney Yaremis Flores were among at least 27 Cuban dissidents arrested last week during what observers have called a new “wave of repression” on the Caribbean island.
Flores was among a group of independent lawyers detained by authorities last Wednesday. According to media reports, she has been charged with “disseminating false news” that harms the “international peace” or the “prestige” of the Cuban state, as established by Article 115 of the Cuban Penal Code. If convicted, Flores could face up to four years in prison.
In addition to her legal work, Flores had written articles containing criticism of the communist regime, most recently relating to the official response to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, for CubaNet. Laritza Diversent, a lawyer detained together with Flores, added that Flores had also recently been providing information on arbitrary arrests in Cuba to the UN High Commission for Human Rights, according to reports.
Sánchez and 16 other dissidents were taken into custody on Thursday while protesting the the arrests of Flores and others. After being released approximately eight hours later, she took to Twitter, asking “When will this absurdity end?” and using the hashtag “#OlaRepresiva” (Wave of Repression). In early October, Sánchez had been briefly detained while attempting to cover the trial of a Spanish activist accused of causing the death of a well-known dissident in a car crash.
The arrests, which included that Antonio Rodiles, director of a local freedom of expression group, were widely condemned both in Cuba and internationally, with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) denouncing the arrests as the actions of “despots and tyrants.”
Reports said that Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, spokesperson for the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a local advocacy group, commented: “A wave of repressive has been noted in the capital. It has a spiral or domino-effect."
The Cuban government’s decision to charge Flores for distributing “false news” marks only the latest example of what critics say is the arbitrary use of legal provisions to silence independent journalism.
IPI today continued to demand the immediate release of Hablemos Press correspondent Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who was detained on Sept. 16 and whom authorities have charged with insulting Fidel and Ramón Castro under the Penal Code’s desacato or “contempt of authority” law (Article 144.1). Martínez had written a series of articles covering the outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever on the island.
Roberto Guerra, editor of Hablemos Press, told IPI that the government has provided no explanation for the charges, which he insisted were without merit. IPI -- which has stated frequently that criminal defamation, insult, and desacato laws pose a serious threat to press freedom in the Caribbean -- welcomes Hablemos Press’s petition to free Martínez.
Hablemos Press last week also reported the detention of another of its correspondents, Enyor Diaz Allen, whose reporting equipment was also seized by authorities during raid on his home. Allen had also recently covered the outbreak of cholera and dengue fever in Cuba, as well as the imprisonment of opposition politicians.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said today: “IPI strongly condemns last week’s mast arrests of Cuban dissidents, including journalists Yoani Sánchez and Yaremis Flores. The incident demonstrates that, more than any other government in the Western Hemisphere, the Cuban regime continues to fear—and therefore oppress—independent reporting.”
Trionfi continued: “IPI demands that the Cuban government drop the arbitrary criminal charges against both Yaremis Flores and Calixto Martínez Arias, both of whom appear to have done nothing wrong but rather have attempted to inform the Cuban people about matters clearly within the public interest.”
In a letter sent last month, IPI urged Cuban President Raúl Castro to consider reforming the country’s defamation laws to bring them in line with international standards. IPI is currently leading a campaign to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws across the Caribbean.