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Like Nobel ceremony, Sakharov Prize ceremony to have empty chair

Like Nobel ceremony, Sakharov Prize ceremony to have empty chair

Published on Tuesday 14 December 2010.
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Five days after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was held in Oslo in laureate Liu Xiaobo’s absence, the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be presented tomorrow in Strasbourg in the absence of its Cuban recipient, Guillermo “El Coco” Fariñas Hernández, because he has not been allowed to leave Cuba.

Cuba’s Ladies in White – the mothers, sisters and daughters of the island’s political prisoners – were already prevented from travelling to Strasbourg when they were awarded the prize jointly with Reporters Without Borders and Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim in 2005. This latest travel ban has again highlighted the extremely limited scope of the Castro government’s concessions to its opponents.

“The European Parliament’s official invitation to attend the Sakharov Prize presentation should have been forwarded to me within a week by the Cuban consular authorities in France,” Fariñas has told Reporters Without Borders, which awarded him its Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2006. “But a month has gone by and I still have not received it. At this point, the document must now be lost.”

The founder of Cubanacán Press, a small independent news agency based in the central city of Santa Clara, Fariñas said he was recovering slowly from the “serious muscular after-effects” of his many hunger strikes. He was not angry about not being able to go to Strasbourg because, he said, the most important thing was to avoid being prevented from returning to Cuba afterwards.

“The authorities would no doubt have allowed me to leave but without being able to return, and there was no question of my agreeing to that,” he said. “I am a Cuban and I will stay with the Cuban people. For me the only acceptable arrangement would have been a provisional exit permit.”

The words “Definitive Exit” were stamped in the passports of all of the 18 journalists – including former Reporters Without Borders Cuba correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso – who have been released from prison since July on condition that they take a one-way trip into exile. Most of these journalists, who had been detained since the March 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown, are now living in Spain.

Three other “Black Spring” journalists remain in prison because they refuse to leave Cuba: Pedro Argüelles Morán, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez and Iván Hernández Carrillo. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its insistence that they have an unconditional right to live freely in their own country.

This is the message that Fariñas said he wanted to send for the ceremony: “A message of reconciliation. Without rancour or hatred. Let us love our enemies. There is no civil war in Cuba. Just a peaceful rebellion and the promise of deep-seated social change. I am a very small part of this rebellion and I receive the Sakharov Prize in the Cuban people’s name. The prize encourages me to pursue this collective movement towards the best of prizes, total democracy in Cuba and human rights for all, even for those who today are our oppressors.”

Reporters Without Borders adopts Fariñas’ message as its own. Cuban society will one day have to be reconciled with all of its components. The international community, especially Europe and Latin America, must continue diplomatic attempts to promote respect for basic rights and freedoms in Cuba.

This is why Reporters Without Borders supports the European Union’s “common position” on Cuba, under which the normalization of EU relations is conditioned on Cuba’s effective recognition of these rights and freedoms. The Cuban government signed two UN conventions on civil and political rights in 2008 but has not ratified them.

At the same time, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba, which has been in place since 1962. It penalizes Cuba’s population while giving the government a pretext for making no changes. The page must be turned on repression and Cubans must be able to decide their future.

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