*** UPDATE – JULY 2010: English PEN is delighted at the news that six Cuban independent journalists imprisoned since March 2003 have finally been released. Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Léster Luis González Pentón, Ricardo Severino González Alfonso, Pablo Pacheco Ávila and Omar Moisés Ruíz Hernández were freed late on 12 July 2010 and arrived in Madrid, Spain, with their families on the afternoon of 13 July. Their release follows talks between the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign minister, during which Cuba reportedly pledged to release 52 dissidents jailed in 2003 over the coming months. English PEN applauds this long-awaited development, but is concerned that the prisoners are apparently obliged to leave Cuba as a precondition of their release. It continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the 19 other writers, journalists and librarians still in prison for their writings. For more information, please click here. ***
2009 is a momentous year for Cuba, as it marks the fiftieth anniversary of Fidel Castro’s Revolutionary Government.
There is good cause for celebration: Cuba has developed a localised care system that has increased life-expectancy and become the envy of richer nations. In the field of education, illiteracy has been almost eradicated. According to UNESCO, Cuba is now the most literate nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, boasting an impressive 99.8% literacy. As a writers association, English PEN are particularly pleased to highlight and applaud this achievement.
Nevertheless, we remain deeply concerned about the state of free expression on the island; Cuba ranks 169 out of 173 in the Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Following recent changes in power, both in Cuba and the United States, it is widely felt that now is a good time to push for greater freedom of expression on the island.
As such, on 16 February 2009, fifty years after Fidel Castro took power, English PEN launched our 2009 Cuba Campaign. The overall aim of our campaign is to bring greater freedom of expression to Cuban citizens in general, but most specifically to our fellow writers, journalists, novelists, poets and dramatists. The areas on which we will be focusing include the following:
Release of prisoners: We will campaign extensively for the early release of the 22 imprisoned writers, journalists and librarians arrested during the ‘Black Spring’ Crackdown in March 2003. We will also campaign on behalf of the three other Cuban PEN cases imprisoned in violation of their right to free expression. For more information on these cases, please click here.
Improvement of prison conditions: Cuba is renowned both for the ill-treatment of prisoners and for poor prison conditions. Such treatment has contributed to the rapid decline in health of English PEN’s Honorary Members and other cases of concern to PEN. As such, we will be campaigning for immediate improvements in prison conditions, including access to visitors, medical treatment, and removal from hard labour.
Other abuses: We aim to raise awareness of trends of repression and censorship threatening writers’ rights in Cuba. We will also campaign for an end to other abuses against Cuban writers and obstacles hampering the freedom to write in Cuba.
Fair trials and access to lawyers: In the case of those imprisoned during the Black Spring Crackdown, the one-day court hearings were held behind closed doors. Furthermore, it was reported that there was insufficient time for the accused to put together a cogent defence. We will therefore be lobbying the Cuban authorities to ensure that writers are given access to fair trials and have sufficient time to prepare. We will also urge the British Embassy in Cuba to attend the trials of dissident writers whenever possible.
Law reform: All those detained during the Black Spring Crackdown were tried under Article 91 of the Penal Code and Law 88. Article 91 deals with charges of acting against “the independence of the territorial integrity of the state”, the maximum penalty for which is death. Law 88 is a catch-all piece of legislation that has been use in the past as a means for sending writers and journalists to prison. It allows for prison sentences of up to 20 years for those found guilty of committing “acts that, in line with imperialist interests, are aimed at subverting the internal order of the Nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system.” In the longer term, we will therefore be aiming for the revision of key laws and unfair judicial processes under which writers are convicted and imprisoned.
Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights (ICESPR): On 5th September 2008, Cuba signed the ICCPR and ICESPR. We must, therefore, be pushing not only for the ratification but also the implementation of the articles therein.
NB. English PEN’s Cuba Campaign 2009 has been launched in conjunction with International PEN’s Freedom to Write in the Americas Campaign, which aims to highlight the persecution of writers and journalists and the issue of impunity in the region, provide direct support to colleagues in trouble and raise awareness of trends of repression and censorship threatening writers’ rights.
The primary focus countries of the campaign will be Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela, while developments in Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua will also be closely monitored. For more information, visit the Freedom to Write in the Americas Campaign pages at http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/freedom-of-expression/campaigns.
To get involved with English PEN’s Cuba Campaign, please click here.
Read about our Honorary Members in Cuba:
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/campaigns/cubacampaign/