Normando Hernández González, Director of Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (Camagüey College of Independent Journalists) and a journalist for the Miami based website CubaNet was arrested on 24 March 2003 as part of a crackdown on alleged dissidents that began on 18 March .
He was one of 35 journalists, writers and librarians sentenced during the one-day trials held on 3/4 April 2003 under laws governing the protection of the Cuban state. The one-day 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. Normando Hernández González was sentenced to 25 years in prison under Article 91 and other provisions of the Criminal Code, reportedly for criticising the government on Radio Martí.
Hernández has reportedly suffered numerous medical complaints since his imprisonment, including hypertension, heart, stomach, digestive and respiratory problems and significant weight loss. Latterly he has also experienced mental health issues related to his long illness and ill treatment in prison. It is reported that Hernández has also suffered maltreatment, including assaults by staff and harassment and attacks by other inmates, and being held with prisoners with acute psychiatric disorders, some of whom are extremely dangerous.
Hernández reported in March 2004 that his wife was stripped naked and interrogated by the prison authorities before being allowed to visit him. On 7 May 2004, he was transferred to Block 8, a section housing common criminals, and was beaten by prison guards for shouting anti-Castro slogans. He reportedly staged a hunger strike in protest at the move the same day as his transfer, and was sent to a punishment cell later the same month. He eventually gave up his hunger strike, and although the exact details were not known, it was presumed that he had come to some agreement with the prison authorities over the cell in which he would be detained. On 22 November 2004 it was reported that his wife had been informed by the prison authorities that her husband was suffering from chronic diarrhoeia which had caused him to lose a considerable amount of weight. The condition apparently derives from a number of intestal ailments including a stomach ulcer. He was admitted to hospital later that month, where he underwent treatment for tuberculosis and a gastric illness. Several months later, however, he was reported to have been transferred from the Pinar del Río hospital back to his cell at the Kilo 5½ prison on 28 July 2005.
In December 2006, Normando was rushed to the hospital after suffering from fainting spells. Having lost 35 pounds for his poor gastrointestinal absorption, he was reportedly on the verge of death. However, he was again returned to Kilo prison, where a couple of months later, in February 2007, Normando was reportedly beaten by a guard. He then refused prison food until the authorities allowed him to make a formal claim about this incident, though continued to eat food brought from outside the prison. His intestinal ailments continue to make it difficult for him to eat.
In May 2007, Normando reportedly suffered a bout of pneumonia and a chronic parasitic infection, whilst also continuing to suffer from severe intestinal diseases. Prison doctors reportedly state that he tests positive for TB but has not developed the disease. When his wife visited him in June 2007, she found Normando in a very poor condition, and weighing just 53 kilos.
On 14 September 2007, Normando was transferred from Kilo 7 Prison in Camaguey to Carlos J Finlay Hospital in Havana. He has been diagnosed with gastrointestinal malabsorption syndrome and giardiasis, and although he is now receiving regular meals and some medical attention, he is still extremely thin and in a great deal of pain.
However, hopes of Hernández’ imminent release were dashed when on 7 May 2008 he was discharged from Carlos J. Finlay military hospital in Havana, and returned to Kilo 7 prison. The move came without explanation and in secret. Following the transfer, Hernández was reportedly kept in solitary confinement and in very poor conditions, with inadequate food and medical attention. In June 2008, his wife stated that Hernández was being held in the prison’s infirmary, and at the end of 2008 said that her request medical parole for that July had been met with no response.
According to our most recent information, Normando was transferred to the hospital attached to Combinado del Este prison in Havana at the beginning of January, suffering from an inflammation of the Adam’s apple known as chondromalacia. Apparently, he did not receive any treatment for this at the hospital and was inexplicably returned to Kilo 7 prison in Camaguey at the end of February. He reportedly had one MRI while in the hospital and was seen twice by a specialist in the six weeks he was there.
English PEN remain deeply concerned for the well-being of our Honorary Member Normando Hernández González. As such we are continuing to call for his immediate and unconditional release. At a minimum, we urge the Cuban authorities to ensure that immediate improvements are made to his prison conditions, including full access to visitors and medical treatment.
Hernandez González is an Honorary Member of the English and American PEN Centres, and in 2007 was a recipient of the annual American PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Read Jeremy Gerard’s article ‘Sick Cuban Writer Gonzalez is back in Raul Castro’s fetid jail’ (Bloomberg.com, 5 March 2009)
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/campaigns/cubacampaign/honorarymembernormandohernndezgonzlez/