Reporters Without Borders,
April 24, 2003.
Reporters Without Borders activists were beaten by staff of the Cuban
embassy in Paris today when they chained themselves to the embassy railings in
the presence of several prominent cultural figures to protest against the
imprisonment of 26 journalists in Cuba.
A dozen Reporters Without Borders protesters were attacked by Cuban embassy
staff today after the ambassador refused to accept a letter demanding the
release of 26 journalists recently imprisoned for up to 27 years. Cuba has now
overtaken Eritrea, Burma and China as the world's biggest prison for
After the refusal, the protesters chained shut the entrances to the embassy
and handcuffed themselves to the railings outside. Embassy staff then beat up
the organisation's secretary-general, Robert Ménard, and the head of its
Latin America desk, Régis Bourgeat.
The demonstrators wore masks and t-shirts bearing pictures of the
journalists and carried two banners, one reading "Cuba = prison" and
the other showing a quote by one of the jailed journalists, Raúl Rivero,
saying : "I don't plot, I write."
Among those who came to express support for the jailed journalists were
Cuban writers Zoé Valdès and Eduardo Manet, Spanish playwright and
filmmaker Fernando Arrabal, French film director Romain Goupil and French
novelist Pascal Bruckner.
Reporters Without Borders also released a letter it sent on 18 April to
French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, criticising France for not
including in its policy towards Cuba the common stand adopted by the European
Union (EU) making closer ties between the EU and Cuba conditional on allowing
multiparty democracy and basic freedoms. It asked the minister to step up
contacts with the dissidents and their families and give them more support.
(Read the letter).
Reporters Without Borders has several times called on the EU to suspend
consideration of Cuba's application in January to join the Cotonou Agreement
(that gives 77 Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries EU aid and preferential
trade terms) until the journalists were freed.
Reporters Without Borders activists had occupied the Cuban tourist office in
Paris for several hours on 4 April to call for their release, symbolically
turning it into a prison and saying it would take further action if the arrested
journalists were convicted.
The Cuban government took advantage of the imminent US invasion of Iraq to
launch an unprecedented wave of repression on 18 March, arresting nearly 80
dissidents, including 26 independent journalists, and accusing them of
undermining the country's "independence and territorial integrity" in
league with the US Interests Section (diplomatic representation) in Havana. They
were jailed for between six and 28 years.
Raúl Rivero, 1997 winner of the Reporters Without Borders / Fondation
de France Prize and Ricardo González, the Reporters Without Borders
correspondent in Havana, received 20-year sentences. All were given sham trials,
in secret, at high speed, with no right to defend themselves and involving
pre-prepared evidence from undercover agents and neighbours accusing them solely
on the basis of their opinions.
Before 18 March, four journalists were already in prison. They were Bernardo
Arévalo Padrón, of the Línea Sur Press news agency, who was
sentenced in November 1997 to six years imprisonment for "insulting"
President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage ; Carlos Brizuela Yera, of
the CPIC news agency, and Lester Téllez Castro, head of the Agencia de
Prensa Libre Avileña, who were arrested on 4 March last year in Ciego de Ávila
while protesting against a police attack on a journalist from the Cuba Press
agency ; and Carlos Alberto Domínguez, who has been held without formal
charges since 23 February last year.
The Cuban constitution bans any private ownership of the media. Because they
cannot publish in their own country, about 100 independent journalists have
relied on Cuban exile organisations in the United States to put out their
articles, mostly on Internet websites. Nearly 60 independent journalists have
been forced into exile abroad since 1995 after being harassed daily by the