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Cuba: Harassment and detention of writers and journalists exposes renewed wave of repression

Monday 2 September 2019 - 5:33pm

A street in Cuba

London, 29 August 2019 – The detention of journalists Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre and Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces demonstrate the deterioration of Cuban policies related to the freedoms of thought, access to information, expression and belief, said PEN International and PEN Cuban Writers in Exile today as it called on the Cuban authorities to end the criminalisation of journalists, artists, intellectuals and writers.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), journalist and lawyer Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces was detained and beaten by state agents on 22 April 2019 while he was covering a trial for news website CubaNet. Quiñones Haces was reportedly released five days later and fined for conduct during his detention, which they alleged, constituted ‘disobedience’ and ‘resistance.’ Quiñones Haces was reportedly sentenced to one year in prison on 7 August 2019 after refusing to pay the fine. Although Quiñones Haces has presented evidence in favour of his case and requested a new trial, on August 19ththe Court of rejected both the evidence and the holding of a new trial. On August 27, the Court ratified its sentence of one year of deprivation of liberty in the modality of correctional work with internment issued against it.

In its special report on the situation for freedom of expression in Cuba, Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) observed that, “For decades the Cuban State has organized the institutional machinery to silence voices outside the regime, and to repress independent journalists, as well as artists or citizens who try to organize themselves to articulate their demands; in all that time the State has maintained a monopoly over the media.” Among the repressive tactics employed by the Cuban authorities are threats, subpoenas, interrogations, arbitrary detentions, searches and seizures of journalistic equipment, and the arbitrary imposition of restrictions of movement, such as travel bans.  Among those recently targeted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association are journalist Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre and poet and journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo.

On 14 August 2019, police reportedly detained poet and journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo together with his wife – human rights activist Nancy Alfaya Hernández – for five hours after they attended a cultural event co-organised by the Citizen’s Committee for Racial Integration (Comité Ciudadanos de Integración Racial) and the Cuban Writers and Artists Club (Club de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba), an independent writers group presided over by Olivera Castillo. Olivera Castillo also reported that the pair were fined 100 pesos each. Olivera Castillo was previously among 35 writers and independent journalists and librarians who were arrested as part of a government crackdown on alleged dissidents that began on 18 March 2003 and in which 75 people in total were detained and tried.

An independent journalist based in Camagüey city, Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre contributes to digital and print media outlets such as 14ymedio and La Hora de Cuba, as well as to the website of Christian Solidarity Worldwide – an organisation dedicated to the promotion of religious freedom. Fernández Izaguirre was detained in Havana on 12 July 2019 when leaving the headquarters of the Damas de Blanco (‘Ladies in White’), an organisation made up of family members of political prisoners who regularly peacefully protest against their imprisonment. Local police reportedly detained him for an alleged illegal stay in Havana, according to the police caution, which he refused to sign. He was released nine days later. Fernández Izaguirre believes the caution and his detention to be arbitrary as he spent less than 24 hours in the capital, in addition to internal deportations they have been a constant threat to journalists and human rights defenders.

“The repression against Cuban creators today, with emphasis on independent journalists and bloggers, is intensifying since it emanates and is sustained thanks to the repressive policy instituted at all levels of Cuban society” said the board of PEN Cuban Writers in Exile.

PEN International and the Cuban Writers in Exile Centre condemn the arbitrary detention of writers, intellectuals, artists and journalists and call on the Cuban authorities to comply with its obligations under international law as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, to refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.