CUBA: Six journalists released; 16 to follow
The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN is delighted at the news that six Cuban independent journalists imprisoned since March 2003 have finally been released. Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Ricardo Severino González Alfonso, Léster Luis González Pentón, Pablo Pacheco Ávila and Omar Moisés Ruíz Hernández were freed late on 12 July 2010 and arrived in Madrid, Spain, with their families on the afternoon of 13 July. Their release follows talks between the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign minister, during which Cuba reportedly pledged to release 52 dissidents jailed in 2003 over the coming months. The WiPC applauds this long-awaited development, but is concerned that the prisoners are apparently obliged to leave Cuba as a precondition of their release. It continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the 19 other writers, journalists and librarians still in prison for their writings.
The independent journalists Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Ricardo Severino González Alfonso, Léster Luis González Pentón, Pablo Pacheco Ávila and Omar Moisés Ruíz Hernández were released late on the night of 12 July 2010 and taken to Havana airport where they were reunited with their families before boarding overnight flights to Spain . They arrived in Madrid on the afternoon of 13 July, along with one other dissident, and are reportedly due to be greeted by representatives of the Spanish foreign ministry, which helped broker the surprise deal under which the Cuban government has agreed to release all 52 dissidents imprisoned since the March 2003 crackdown.
One of the conditions of the prisoners’ release is apparently that they agree to be exiled to Spain , although they will be free to move elsewhere thereafter. Both the USA and Chile have reportedly offered to take in the dissidents. According to statements issued by the Catholic Church, 20 of the 52 detainees have agreed to go to Spain so far. These reportedly include the seven already released as well as four other imprisoned writers who are due to be sent to Spain in the coming days: Mijaíl Bárzaga Lugo , Normando Hernández González, José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández and Alfredo Manuel Pulido López. The other detainees will be released over the next three to four months. It is not yet clear what will happen to dissidents who do not wish to leave Cuba .
The Cuban government has not explained why it has agreed to the releases. A rare TV appearance by the former leader Fidel Castro hours before the dissidents’ departure on 12 July made no mention of the fact, focusing instead on international affairs. However, the regime has come under increasing pressure from the international community following the 23 February death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike for better prison conditions, harassment of the dissident group ‘Ladies in White’ during protests in March and April, and reports last week that the journalist Guillermo Fariñas who went on hunger strike following Zapata’s death was himself in danger of dying. Fariñas reportedly called off his hunger strike after the releases were announced.
Twenty-two of the 52 dissidents to be released are writers, independent journalists and librarians whose cases have been followed by International PEN. Following the release of the six independent journalists yesterday, a total of 19 other writers remain in jail, 16 of whom have also been held since March 2003.
Details of the six journalists who were released on 12 July 2010 are as follows:
Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez: freelance journalist from 2001; previously worked for the official media for 24 years. Year of birth: 22 August 1944. Sentence: 15 years.
José Luis García Paneque: journalist (Agencia Libertad press agency) and librarian (Carlos J Finlay Library); said to have previously worked as a plastic surgeon. Date of birth: 24 July 1965. Sentence: 24 years. Honorary Member: English PEN.
Ricardo Severino González Alfonso: journalist, librarian and poet. Date of birth: 19 February 1950. Sentence: 20 years. Honorary member: Finnish PEN and German PEN.
Léster Luis González Pentón: independent journalist (Movimiento Democracia) and member of human rights movement ALFA-3. Year of birth: 22 February 1977; said to be the youngest of the 75 dissidents arrested in March 2003. Sentence: 20 years. Honorary Member: American, English and Sydney PEN Centres.
Pablo Pacheco Ávila: freelance journalist (independent news agencies Agencia Patria and Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes). Date of birth: 4 April 1970. Sentence: 20 years. Honorary Member: Bolivian PEN.
Omar Moisés Ruíz Hernández: freelance journalist (news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro and CubaNet). Date of birth: 16 November 1947. Sentence: 18 years. Honorary Member: Swedish PEN.
Details of the four other writers reportedly due to be released and sent to Spain in the coming days:
Mijaíl Bárzaga Lugo: journalist (Agencia Noticiosa de Cuba); brother of well known human rights activist Belkis Bárzaga Lugo. Date of birth: 25 April 1967. Sentence: 15 years. Honorary Member: Netherlands PEN.
Normando Hernández González: director of the news agency Camagüey College of Independent Journalists (Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey), journalist (Cubanet). Date of birth: 21 October 1969. Sentence: 25 years. Expires: April 2028. Honorary Member: American, Canadian and English PEN. Recipient of the 2007 American PEN /Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández: freelance journalist (independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro and CubaNet), librarian (director of Sebastián Arcos Bergnes library) and pro-democracy activist. Date of birth: 6 November 1965. Sentence: 16 years.
Alfredo Manuel Pulido López: human rights activist and freelance journalist (director of El Mayor news agency, Camagüey). Date of birth: 14 November 1960. Sentence: 14 years.