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Press freedom prize winner held twice in 24 hours

Press freedom prize winner held twice in 24 hours

Published on Friday 28 January 2011.
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Cuban cyber-journalist and dissident Guillermo “El Coco” Fariñas Hernández has been arrested for the second time in 24 hours and though it is thought likely he will be released shortly Reporters Without Borders calls attention to the fact that his sole offence has been to campaign for freedom to inform and liberty of movement, a right still denied the Cuban people.

Guillermo Fariñas, who was awarded the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov prize, was first arrested on 26 January while taking part in a demonstration in support of a family risking eviction from their home in the province of Santa Clara, east of Havana.

Sixteen dissidents were arrested on this occasion on charges of “public scandal.” Guillermo Fariñas was held fort nine hours before being released yesterday morning.

The blogger Yoani Sánchez warned on her Twitter account of the consequences a night in detention might have on the delicate health of Guillermo Fariñas. She also said that the people detained, of whom she was one, had been freed without charge but threatened with reprisals at the next demonstration of civil disobedience or antisocial behavior.

Hardly had Guillermo Fariñas, who is 49, been released when he was again detained as he was making his way with a dozen or so dissidents to the Santa Clara police station to ask about the condition of another dissident held some hours earlier.

“I thought he would be freed as quickly as on the day before, but I have high hopes,’ his mother Alicia Hernández told Reporters Without Borders today.

“They have no interest in prolonging his detention. Still, I am worried for his health, which is still fragile.”

In 2010 he undertook a hunger strike of more than four months to call for the freeing of sick political prisoners. His action attracted the attention of the international community to the government headed by Raúl Castro which finally agreed during mediation by the Roman Catholic church and the Spanish government to free 52 dissidents.

Of the 41 prisoners so far released only one has been able to stay in Cuba, with the rest forced into exile in Spain. Another 11 prisoners refused to leave the island and so remain in prison. Among them are three journalists from the “Black Spring” of March 2003: Pedro Argüelles Morán, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez and Iván Hernández Carrillo.

Reporters Without Borders draws attention to the undertaking the Cuban government to free all these prisoners by Christmas 2010.

“Offering dissidents the alternative between prison and compulsory exile amounts to a violation of human rights and international law,” the press freedom body says.

“No government can make its citizens stateless, especially under this kind of constraint.”

The hoped-for development on the part of the Cuban government has still not taken place in the area of basic public freedoms. The authorities are increasingly worried by the ability of civil society to mobilize and yesterday they threatened suppliers of illegal satellite television antennae and receivers with jail terms and heavy fines.

It is a matter of limiting “messages of destabilization and interference” to use the current propaganda vocabulary. Legal subscription to satellite and cable in Cuba is reserved for public and tourist enterprises or for foreign residents at a cost of 1,600 convertible pesos (or 1, 600 dollars) a year, according to AFP. This arrangement, out of the financial reach of the Cuban people, appears to amount to discrimination.

How can a regime that imposes censorship at home allow itself to criticize it elsewhere, when it is itself in breach? The official propaganda website Cubadebate recently complained that it was subject to “censorship” on the part of YouTube (owned by Google) because it had had its account closed for a presumed copyright infringement. Yet the affair was fully aired on YouTube and on Facebook, where the site has also complained of censorship.

YouTube suspends user accounts that have multiple claims of copyright infringement against them. In each case, the user is notified of a strike on their account. A copyright strike can be resolved if the user submits a counter-notification and prevails in that process.

“Cubadebate has done it four times. There is no question of censorship. But of a violation of copyright which called for it to be placed in default.”

“The Cuban regime must implement its international commitments, in particular those to the United Nations, on civil and political rights,” Reporters Without Borders says.

“We maintain our position in this respect: in favor of the lifting of the unjust embargo imposed on the island since 1962 by the United States but also in favor of the common position of the European Union which conditions the normalization of diplomatic relations on respect for human rights.”

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