Open letter to the chancellor of Austria, the EU presidency’s current holder
Posted: 07 February 2006 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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31 January 2006

On the eve of a European parliamentary debate on relations between the European Union and Cuba, Reporters Without Borders has written to the Austrian government, as current holder of the EU presidency, calling for the resumption of diplomatic initiatives aimed at supporting human rights and dissidents in Cuba.

For the attention of:

Mr. Wolfgang Schüssel, Federal Chancellor
Ms. Ursula Plassnik, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Chancellor,
Dear Foreign Minister,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom worldwide, would like to draw your attention to the plight of journalists in Cuba at a moment when the European Union is about to debate its relations with the island. We are dismayed and outraged by the Cuban government’s continuing harassment of independent journalists, who are unable to work freely or defend themselves against state repression.

Cuba continues to be the world’s second biggest prison for the press, after China. Twenty journalists arrested during the March 2003 crackdown are still in prison. Four others were arrested last summer. The situation is alarming, and Reporters Without Borders calls for a stronger show of visible support and solidarity with these prisoners of conscience.

Oscar Mario González Pérez of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro independent news agency has spent more than six months in state security cells since his arrest on 22 July, on the eve of a dissident demonstration. He faces up to 20 years in prison under Law 88, which claims to protect “Cuba’s national independence and economy.” Yet no precise charge has been brought against him and the charge sheet is said to have been mislaid. His case is similar to that of Roberto de Jésus Guerra Pérez, a contributor to the exile websites Payolibre and Nueva Prensa Cubana and Radio Martí, who has been held without trial since 13 July.

The Cuban authorities follow a strategy for harassing independent journalists. Llanis Meriño Aguilera, 21, the head of the Youth Against Censorship news agency, was recently threatened by two State Security officials. They ordered her to give up her journalist work and accused her of disseminating false information, which is punishable by imprisonment.

The prison conditions of the 20 journalists held since March 2003 are intolerable. A number of them are seriously ill but they have no access to the treatment they need. These prisoners have been adopted by a few Members of the European Parliament but, unfortunately, not by enough of them.

Defence of the universality and indivisibility of human rights is one of the EU’s basic aims. This principle must be maintained as a precondition for any attempt at dialogue with the Cuban authorities.

In reaction to the recent crackdown, the EU decided on 5 June 2003 to limit high-level governmental visits of a bilateral nature, reduce the importance of member states’ participation in Cuban cultural events, and invite Cuban dissidents to national holiday ceremonies held by embassies in Havana. However, after being deemed ineffective, the sanctions were lifted on 31 January 2005 and the European Council confirmed this change of stance in June.

Reporters Without Borders notes with regret that the suspension of European sanctions and the EU’s attempts at rapprochement with the Cuban regime have yielded no improvement in human rights on the island. Indeed, the Cuban authorities show no consideration for EU representatives. Two European parliamentarians who wanted to attend a congress organised by a dissident group, the Association for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba (APSC), were turned back on their arrival in Cuba on 17 May, while 18 others were denied visas. The Ladies in White, an organisation of wives and mothers of prisoners of conscience, were not allowed to travel to Strasbourg in December to receive the 2005 Sakharov prize, of which they were co-winners.

In view of all these circumstances, we call on Austria as holder of the EU presidency, together with the other European institutions, to seriously reconsider the EU position on Cuba.

I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request.


Robert Ménard