Primavera Negra

25th journalist arrested as regime shows no sign of easing harassment of independent media

Cuba5 February 2007

25th journalist arrested as regime shows no sign of easing harassment of
independent media

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the detention of journalist
Ramón Velázquez Toranso of the independent news Libertad, who has been
held in the provincial prison in the eastern province of Las Tunas since
his arrest on 23 January and who went on hunger strike on 30 January.
Around 40 journalists have been detained, attacked or threatened, some
of them several times, since Raúl Castro took over as acting president
six months ago.

"The occasional hint of an opening under Raúl Castro's interim regime
has not been translated into any progress in press freedom," Reporters
Without Borders said. "Independent journalists continue to be subjected
to harassment and violence by State Security. All Velázquez did was
peaceful demonstrate for more freedom of expression."

The press freedom organisation added: "Do the authorities seriously
think they can bring about a rapprochement with the international
community while at the same time persisting in such intransigence and
arbitrary activity. They would have everything to gain by freeing
prisoners of conscience."

Velázquez was arrested with his wife and daughter at the station in the
central city of Ciego de Ávila on 23 January. His family had launched a
March for Unity between Las Tunas and Havana on 10 December to press for
the respect of basic freedoms. Velázquez, his family and other marchers
were first briefly arrested on 4 January in Ciego de Ávila. Sent back to
Las Tunas, he was intercepted again the next day as he tried to relaunch
the peaceful march in the central city of Camagüey.

Harassed for months by the State Security (the political police),
Velázquez had been sentenced to three years of "surveillance" by the Las
Tunas provincial court as a "pre-criminal danger to society."

His wife and daughter were soon released but Velázquez was held at a
National Police unit in Las Tunas and was then transferred to the "El
Típico" provincial prison, where he began his hunger strike on 30
January. The State Security has told his family he will not be allowed
visits as long as he continues the hunger strike.

Velázquez works for the Las Tunas-based Libertad new agency, whose
founder and editor, José Luis García Paneque, has been serving a 24-year
prison sentence since his arrest in the March 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown.

The editor of the La Voz de Oriente independent news agency, Haydee
Rodríguez, also began a hunger strike after a heavy-handed raid on her
home in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba on 20 January in which
the State Security confiscated books, magazines and pencils that she had
been planning to deliver to an independent library. Capt. Giovanis Durán
also took away recording equipment, two radio sets and European Union
documents which Rodríguez, who has Spanish nationality, regularly receives.

The Payolibre website has reported that Luis Esteban Espinosa
Echemendía, 20, of the Jóvenes sin Censura independent news agency was
arrested in an aggressive manner on 29 January in Ciego de Ávila by José
Mariño, the State Security provincial head of counter-espionage.
Espinosa was questioned at the police station and journalistic equipment
was confiscated.

Espinosa had previously been detained for two hours by State Security on
10 January. The State Security ransacked the home of another Jóvenes sin
Censura journalist, Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, in a unsuccessful search
for "enemy propaganda" on 2 February.

The Camagüey provincial court meanwhile decided on 24 January to
postpone the trial of independent journalist Armando Betancourt, 44,
until 8 February. Betancourt has been held without trial since 23 May.
His wife, Mercedes Boudet, who is herself being threatened with arrest,
said he is being held for "anti-government activities" although he could
end up being convicted of a non-political offence.

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