Reporters Without Borders said today it was “delighted” at the release from prison today of Cuban journalist Raúl Rivero, calling it “the end of a huge injustice towards a renowned journalist and writer” and his family.
It repeated its call for the release of 24 other journalists detained in Cuba since spring last year. “Rivero’s release is great news for democrats everywhere, but it must not be forgotten that Cuba’s human rights record remains worse than it was before his arrest and that the regime still controls the media and the country with an iron hand,” it said.
Rivero was arrested in March last year along with 74 other dissidents, 26 of them journalists. Over 60 of them are still in prison and more than 300 political prisoners in all are being held in Cuba.
The worldwide press freedom organisation called on the Cuban government to embark on “a true path towards democracy” by giving up its monopoly of news. It urged the European Union to maintain ties with Cuban dissidents and keep its relations with Havana conditional on improving human rights and political freedoms and respecting democratic pluralism.
Rivero’s wife Blanca Reyes told her husband had been officially freed for health reasons, according to the Associated Press news agency. He was transferred on 26 November to the Combinado del Este prison hospital in Havana, along with at least 16 other dissidents, two of whom were freed three days later. Another journalist, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, already hospitalised at Combinado del Este, was freed yesterday.
Rivero was arrested on 20 March last year and sentenced on 4 April to 20 years in prison after a hasty trial for “undermining national independence and territorial unity.” He was accused of writing “biased” articles in foreign publications. “I don’t plot, I write,” he told the court.
He was held in the Canaleta maximum security prison at Ciego de Avila (430 km east of Havana), where his health deteriorated and he lost nearly 40 kg.
Eleven of the 75 dissidents and journalists arrested in March last year have been freed so far - seven between April and July this year and four in the past few days.
Raúl Rivero, winner of the 1997 Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award
Born in Moron (Camagüey) in 1945, Raúl Rivero used to be a journalist with the official news agency Prensa Latina and was its Moscow correspondent from 1973 to 1976. He resigned from UNEAC, the official association of Cuban journalists and writers in 1989. He broke completely with the regime in 1991 when he signed “The letter of 10 intellectuals” which called on President Fidel Castro to free prisoners of conscience and to reform the socialist regime. He is the only one of the 10 signatories who is still in Cuba.
He created Cuba Press, one of the first independent news agencies, in September 1995. It has never been recognised by the government. He received the Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation award in 1997 for his efforts on behalf of press freedom in Cuba. He was last arrested was on 9 March 1999, the date of the last major wave of arrests. It came just over a year after the pope’s visit in January 1998 and was the government’s way of showing there would be no liberalization.
Since then, his international reputation had seem to protect him from the everyday harassment to which his colleagues are exposed. However, the government never granted him a temporary exit visa so that he could take advantage of invitations to attend events abroad. The only permission it was prepared to give him was for a definitive departure with no return. Rivero had always refused this.
For more on Rivero’s arrest, trial and prison conditions, see http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=6828
Over 13 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its “Sponsorship Programme” and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten.
Currently, RaulRivero is sponsored by Metro, TV5, France culture, La Tribune, Ouest-France, Le Figaro, Epok, Conseil regional de la region centre, France culture, Le Dauphine libere, Mairie de Deauville, La Presse, Le Ligueur, Radio Nostalgie, Fun Radio, Radio Contact/BFM, ISR Info, La Semaine du Pays Basque, Strasbourg Magazine, Le Temps, El País, El Mundo, ABC, La Vanguardia, Grupo Vocento, FAPE, Asociacion de la Prensa de Cádiz, La Region, Pressnet, [url=http://www.cubantrip.com]http://www.cubantrip.com[/url] .