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Jailed journalists on hunger strike

Jailed journalists on hunger strike

Published on Friday 4 February 2011.
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Pedro Argüelles Morán, one of four journalists in jailed Cuba, began a hunger strike 1 February to protest against the authorities’ efforts to force him into exile as the price for freeing him.

Reporters Without Borders has appealed to him and another jailed journalist Albert Santiago du Bouchet, who has also started a hunger strike, to call off their action.

“At the same time we call on the Cuban authorities to listen to reason and recognize that those journalists still in jail have the inalienable right to live in their own country and to exercise their right to inform there,” the press freedom body said.

“This deafness is the more incomprehensible in that one of the 41 dissidents freed, out of the 52 envisaged, has had the right to stay in Cuba given to him.

“The government in Havana, bound by its international commitments in the field of human rights, cannot make its own citizens stateless.”

Pedro Argüelles Morán is one of the three journalists behind bars since the “Black Spring” of March 2003, the others being Iván Hernández Carrillo and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. Their refusal to leave the country has kept them in jail.

During this time four other prisoners whose names did not originally appear on the list of those who could be freed to go to Spain from July 2010 have agreed to leave shortly for Madrid.

Reporters Without Borders understands that Pedro Argüelles Morán was summoned on 20 January by the director of the prison at Canaleta in the province of Ciego de Ávila, where he is serving a jail sentence of 20 years for his opinions under the false pretext of “espionage.”

During the interview the director, aided by two state officials, tried to persuade him to leave the country as a way of getting out of prison. Pedro Argüelles Morán, almost blind and very weak after seven years in detention, refused, repeating that he was innocent, and demanded the right to stay in his country as a Cuban citizen.

He is reported to have refused to take a call from the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who had negotiated the recent liberation of political prisoners with the Spanish government and Cuban authorities.

His hunger strike comes as the first anniversary approaches of the death of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in prison from a lack of medical care after 80 days of hunger strike.

In a gesture of respect Albert Santiago du Bouchet has decided in his turn to stop taking food from 1 February for 23 days. He was given three years for “disrespect for authority” in 2009.

Reporters Without Borders called on the two men to stop their hunger strikes.

“The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which profoundly affected international opinion, was not without influence on the process of the freeing of the dissidents,” the press freedom body said.

“A year later, do the authorities want to create other insoluble situations by giving political prisoners the choice between prison and losing their roots?”

Separately, Reporters Without Borders hopes very shortly to know the reasons for the arrest and detention since 11 July last year in Cuba of Sebastián Martínez Ferrate. He is a Spanish former producer and freelance journalist who in 2008 produced a report on child prostitution in Cuba. He ceased his activities in 2009 well before his last visit to Cuba.

"Reporters Without Borders hopes, in the absence of clear explanations on the part of the Cuban authorities, that this detention is not connected to the journalistic work previously carried out by Sebastián Martínez Ferrate,” the organization said.

“The Cuban government has, according to our sources, apparently put forward reasons relating to national security. We have not forgotten that this type of argument has regularly been used to send to prison journalists who were only carrying out their duties.”

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