Sunday, July 11, 2010

IPI Applauds Release of Cuban Journalists, Other Dissidents

International Press Institute (IPI) Director David Dadge today praised the expected release of Cuban journalists José Luis Garcia Paneque, Pablo Pancheco Ávila and Lester Luis González Pentón following apparently successful negotiations between President Raúl Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Roman Catholic archbishop of Havana, brokered by visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
However, IPI expressed disappointment at the fact that its Justice Denied journalist, Omar Rodríguez Saludes, appears due to remain behind bars. Rodríguez, director of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana, was arrested on the night of 18 March 2003 and sentenced to 27 years in prison - the longest sentence handed down to any of the 29 journalists arrested in the 2003 crackdown on dissidents.

“While we welcome this long overdue move by Cuba to release political prisoners detained in the infamous Black Spring crackdown, it is far from enough,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “We call on Cuba to immediately release all the dissidents, including journalists, who remain in prison.”

The journalists due for release, along with two other political prisoners - Villarreal Antonio Acosta and Luis Milan Fernandez, are expected to be freed in the next few days and flown to Spain, according to reports from the Havana archdiocese. Last week, after a meeting with Cardinal Ortega, Castro released one prisoner and transferred about a dozen others to facilities closer to their family homes.

The journalists, along with owners of private libraries and members of illegal opposition political parties, were arrested in March 2003 (known as the Cuban “black spring”) as part of a major crackdown by the government on dissidents. Nearly 80 people were arrested in the sweep; most remain in prison. Between 3 and 7 April of that year, the 29 journalists arrested were handed down jail sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code, which provides for prison sentences or the death penalty for those who act against “the independence or territorial integrity of the State.”

Medical doctor and independent journalist José Luis García Paneque was arrested March 18, 2003 and is serving a 24-year sentence. A member of the independent – and illegal -- Manuel Marquez Sterling Journalists’ Association, Garcia Paneque was also head of the independent library in the eastern province of Las Tunas.

Pablo Pancheco Ávila was also arrested on 18 March and later sentenced to 20 years in prison. Panchero Ávila worked for the unofficial news agency Cooperativa de periodistas Independientes Avilena when he was arrested.

Freelance journalist Lester Luis González Pentón was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was among the youngest of the writers arrested in 2003.

According to the Catholic church, 47 other dissidents will be released over the next three to four months.

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