Fabio Prieto Llorente was arrested as part of a crackdown on alleged Cuban dissidents, on 18 March 2003. Over the following three days, which have come to be known as the ‘Black Spring’, ninety other opponents of the regime, including twenty-six journalists, were arrested on grounds that they were ‘agents of the American enemy’.
Prieto, a correspondent for the banned Havana Press agency and for the former news site cubafreepress.org, was one of thirty-four journalists, writers and librarians sentenced during the one-day trials held on 3-4 April 2003. The court hearings were held behind closed doors and it is reported that there was insufficient time for the accused to put together a cogent defence. Prieto was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, under the ’88 Law’ of February 1999, which protects ‘the national independence and economy of Cuba’.
A few months into his sentence, in August 2003, Prieto was ordered to spend 21 days in solitary confinement for having offended a state security official. In January 2004 he was again reported to be held in solitary confinement in reprisal, on this occasion for having started a hunger strike in protest at being held with common criminals, some of whom he claimed were dangerous. Prieto went on hunger strike on two further occasions that year, in protest at the conditions in which he was being held and demanding to be transferred to a prison nearer his family home in Isla de la Juventud.
By February 2005, he was reported to have instead been transferred to a punishment cell measuring 1.2x3m. It was not made clear how long he was due to spend in this cell, or why he had been moved to it. In May 2005, Prieto had a number of common criminals join him in his cramped cell, making it all but impossible to leave his bed. Furthermore, the prison authorities reportedly make use of these prisoners, offering them privileges for harassing political prisoners.
In October 2005, Prieto was still in the punishment cell he had been moved to in February because he refused to wear a prison uniform. According to his eldest sister, Clara Lourdes, Prieto’s refusal to wear the uniform is in protest at what he sees as the inhumane conditions at the prison including lack of medical attention and poor food. He is also reportedly deprived of regular contact with his family and his right to outdoor exercise, whilst a radio is left on continuously to prevent him from sleeping.
There have been a number of concerns over Prieto’s health since his arrest. In July 2004, PEN received information that Prieto was suffering from chronic emphysema. The following year, in April, we received reports that his health was deteriorating further, and that he was suffering from emphysema, piles, constant backache and general tiredness. According to our most recent reports, Prieto was hospitalised in May 2007, suffering acute chest pains, back pains and low blood pressure. However, he was returned to prison before tests could be fully completed.
In July 2007, Reporters Without Borders reported that Prieto had finally been transferred to a prison on Isla de la Juventud. Although this transfer might imply that his requests are no longer being ignored, and thus indicates a degree of improvement in his situation, the authorities there have reportedly been withholding the treatment he needs for ‘serious pulmonary complications’ since 10 June 2007.
To call for Prieto’s release on humanitarian, medical grounds, English PEN urges its members to write to the Cuban Ambassador in London:
His Excellency René J. Mujica Cantelar
Embassy of the
167 High Holborn
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/prisoners/fabioprietollorente/