October 16th, 2006 12:23 EST
Cuban Reporters Still Face Harassment, Human Rights Official Says
Despite the temporary transfer of governmental power in Cuba on July 31, the Cuban dictatorship continues to subject independent journalists in the Caribbean nation to "constant harassment," says a human rights official for the Organization of American States (OAS).
In an October 12 quarterly report on the state of freedom of expression in the Americas, the OAS official, Ignacio Álvarez, reiterated his concern over the situation of journalists in Cuba who have been imprisoned or face other forms of repression from the Cuban dictatorship. (See related article.)
While he recuperates from intestinal surgery, the country's dictator, Fidel Castro, temporarily has handed over power to his brother, Raúl Castro.
Álvarez, the OAS "special rapporteur" for freedom of expression in the Americas, said that from the most recent period reported -- July 1 to September 30 -- independent journalists in Cuba were "arbitrarily and repeatedly imprisoned, and were physically attacked and threatened by agents" of the Cuban government.
The OAS official said that he has not "perceived any change in the situation of total lack of respect for freedom of thought and expression in Cuba" since the change in power in Cuba. Álvarez once again urged the Cuban government to release imprisoned journalists and "to respect the right of all Cubans to freedom of thought and expression."
The U.S. State Department said in an April 5 report that Cuban officials and their "proxies" increasingly tormented pro-democracy activists and independent journalists through the use of mob actions known as "acts of repudiation." (See related article.)
The department's report, called Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005-2006, said accused dissidents, some charged with common crimes, "received sham trials, and those sent to prison were often held in harsh conditions."
Álvarez also singled out Venezuela for criticism, saying that he was concerned about the "physical aggressions and threats to journalists registered during the quarter." In particular, he condemned the reopening of criminal charges against journalist Napoleón Bravo for the "crime of contempt" regarding "declarations that offended" the country's Supreme Court of Justice.
He also deplored a threat to demolish the headquarters of a Venezuelan newspaper, Correo del Caroní, and the murder of Venezuelan journalist and political leader Jesús Flores Rojas.
Flores Rojas was shot dead in the Venezuelan city of El Tigre on August 23. Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, condemned the murder, saying in a September 1 statement that "the killing of journalists is an unacceptable attack on democracy and rule of law which depend on media professionals' ability to exercise the basic human right of freedom of expression to inform public debate." Global press advocacy groups such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also deplored the murder.
The State Department has joined the international community in criticizing Venezuela's "social responsibility" law, passed in 2004, and other Venezuelan laws restricting press freedoms. In its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released March 8, the department said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "repeatedly singled out media owners and editors,” accusing them of treason and of provoking "political unrest." (See related article.)
In his October 12 report, Álvarez expressed his concern over the general "deterioration of freedom of expression" in the Americas. The official cited an increase in physical violence against journalists in the last quarterly reporting period, which he said "has been manifest most brutally in at least seven murders and one disappearance apparently related to the exercise of journalism."
Álvarez added that the "delays on police investigations and judicial processes with respect to the murders of journalists perpetrated in the region in the last few years leads to impunity for these crimes and encourages their probable repetition." He also said "dozens of episodes of physical aggression" have been committed against journalists, including kidnappings, along with "dozens of threats in practically all of Latin America, as well as several acts of prior censorship."
In addition, Álvarez said, many journalists in the Americas face criminal processes for crimes like "desacato" (contempt) or defamation, and some judicial courts have condemned journalists to jail in these cases, "restricting freedom of expression and disregarding the doctrine and jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on this subject." (See related article.)
Álvarez said "freedom of expression not only implies the possibility to disseminate inconvenient or critical information about authorities, but also includes freedom from facing illegitimate consequences imposed by the State as a result."
He also reported on positive developments concerning press freedom in the region, including the conviction of two individuals in Peru for murdering a journalist; the "stay" of proceedings for defamation against a journalist in Costa Rica; the veto by Brazil's president of a law intended to limit the exercise of journalistic roles solely to people with university diplomas; and approval in the Mexican state of Querétaro of a "norm" that protects the confidentiality of the sources of information of journalists.
Additional information is available in an October 11 press release (CIDH/RAPP) on the OAS Web site.
For more on U.S. policy, see Freedom of the Press, Cuba and Venezuela.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)