Omar Rodríguez Saludes

Photo: IAPA

Omar Rodríguez Saludes, director of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana, was arrested on the night of 18 March 2003 during the infamous March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's political dissidents and independent journalists.

On 5 April 2003, Rodríguez, who was 37-years-old at the time of his arrest, was tried by Havana's special court for crimes against state security under Article 91 of the Penal Code for "acting against the independence or territorial integrity of the State". He was sentenced to 27 years in prison, the longest sentence handed down to any of the 29 journalists arrested in the crackdown.

Rodríguez was incarcerated at Camagüey Provincial Prison, over 500 kilometres from his home in Havana, but was later moved to Toledo Prison, Havana, where he shares a cell with several inmates. According to his wife, Ileana Marrero Joa, he suffers from kidney problems and hypertension.

Rodríguez began his journalistic career in 1995 as a freelance reporter and photographer. He later joined Nueva Prensa Cubana, where he wrote about political repression under the Castro regime, among other topics, and soon became the agency's director.


Timeline

12 November 2008: IPI launches Justice Denied campaign, calling for the release of Omar Rodriguez Saludes, among other issues.

18 March 2003:
Omar Rodríguez Saludes arrested in Havana

5 April 2003:
Rodríguez is sentenced to 27 years in prison under Article 91 of the Penal Code for "acting against the independence or territorial integrity of the State"

June 2003: The People's Supreme Tribunal dismisses the appeals for annulment filed by the journalists arrested in the March 2003 crackdown

 

Omar Rodríguez Saludes is one of 22 journalists currently imprisoned in Cuba. The other jailed journalists are:

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1. Pedro Argüelles Morán, Director, Ciego de Ávila Independent Journalists Cooperative (CAPI), sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment (*)

2. Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Journalist, Union of Independent Journalists and Writers, 26 years (*)

3. Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo, Reporter, Agencia Noticiosa Cubana news agency, 15 years (+)

4. Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez, Reporter, Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental news agency, sentenced to 2 years of home confinement on 6 November 2006

5. Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Correspondent, Patria news agency, 15 years (+)

6. Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, Freelancer, 26 years (+)

7. Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, Journalist, Havana Press news agency, 26 years (*)

8. Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, Freelancer, 15 years (*)

9. José Luis García Paneque, Director, Libertad news agency, 24 years (*)

10. Ricardo González Alfonso, Freelancer, 20 years (*)

11. Léxter Luis González Pentón, Freelancer, 20 years (*)

12. Iván Hernández Carrillo, Reporter, Patria news agency, 25 years (*)

13. Normando Hernández González, Director, Camagüey Independent Journalists Guild news agency, 25 years (+)

14. Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Reporter, Agencia Prensa Libre Oriental news agency, 20 years (+)

15. Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Journalist, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, 20 years (+)

16. Pablo Pacheco Ávila, Reporter, Ciego de Ávila Independent Journalists Cooperative, 20 years (+)

17. Alfredo Pulido López, Director, El Mayor news agency, 14 years (*)

18. Fabio Prieto Llorente, Freelancer, 20 years (+)

19. Omar Ruiz Hernández, Reporter, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, 18 years (+)

20. Oscar Sánchez Madan, Freelancer, sentenced to 4 years' imprisonment on 13 April 2007

21. José Ubaldo Izquierdo, Reporter, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, 16 years (+)

(*) = imprisoned on 18 March 2003
(+) = imprisoned on 19 March 2003


"La Primavera Negra" (The Black Spring)

Omar Rodríguez Saludes was one of 29 journalists arrested in the massive crackdown - dubbed "The Black Spring" - on political dissidents and independent journalists in March 2003. Over a three-day period, police conducted mass arrests and house searches, confiscating research material, computers, typewriters, cameras, fax machines, and other equipment. In all, 78 people, including 29 journalists, were arrested. About half of those arrested had organised a petition drive for political and human rights reforms in Cuba. Known as the "Varela Project", it gathered more than 11,000 signatures and united the country's small dissident movement into the first major internal challenge to the Communist regime.

On 7 April, 14 courts across the country announced that they had convicted the journalists of "working with a foreign power to undermine the government" and had handed down jail sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in jail. The one-day trials were held behind closed doors. Defence lawyers had little time to prepare cases and in some instances could not meet with their clients until just before the trials began.

Prosecutors had asked for sentences ranging from 20 years to life for the dissidents under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy, which provides for the punishment of anyone who "supports, facilitates or collaborates with the objectives of the Helms-Burton Law, the embargo, and the economic war against our people," and Article 91 of the Penal Code, which provides for prison sentences or the death penalty for those who act against "the independence or territorial integrity of the State."

The journalists remained incarcerated in jails administered by the state intelligence apparatus, DSE, until 24 April 2003, when most of them were sent to prisons around the country, often hundreds of kilometres from their homes. In June 2003, the People's Supreme Tribunal dismissed the appeals for annulment filed by the journalists in April and upheld their convictions.

Rodríguez and Cuba's other imprisoned journalists are kept in solitary confinement or locked up with common criminals, who are often encouraged to harass them. They complain of appalling hygiene conditions, rotten food and inadequate medical care. The often great distances from their homes make visits by family members difficult and expensive. Several imprisoned journalists have gone on hunger strikes to demand better conditions. It is feared that some journalists could die as a result of the poor conditions in the prisons.