Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Photojournalist Jailed for One Year

Yoel Bencomo Martínez, who photographed images the government didn't like, gets 12 months after spending over a year in custody.
By Yoel Espinosa Medrano

Cuban photo journalist Yoel Bencomo Martínez faces a year in prison after being convicted in October.

In sentencing, judges imposed a 12-month sentence on Bencomo – even more than the nine months prosecutors had asked for. He is now serving his sentence in La Pendiente prison in his home city, Santa Clara. 

His lawyer tried to appeal the verdict, but was informed in late November that the sentence was being upheld. 

Guillermo Fariñas, a Sakharov-prizewinning dissident, says Bencomo was jailed for political reasons as “an act of revenge by State Security”.

Fariñas says that in the months leading up to his arrest in July 2013, Bencomo annoyed the authorities by using his photography to document human rights abuses and the work of the FANTU dissident group in Santa Clara. The photographs were published by a number of media outlets outside Cuba.

Information about Bencomo's case has been slow to seep out because of communications are poor and internet access almost completely lacking in Villa Clara province.

Until Bencomo went to trial this October, his family had little idea of what was accused of, even though he was arrested on July 5, 2013. They were just told he was being charged with “disobedience”, in other words failure to comply with instructions or rulings issued by officials. A criminal offence, it carries a sentence of three to 12 months.

At trial, Bencomo described the events that led to his arrest. His account was reported by Ramón Arbolaes, a human rights activist present at the trial.

He was driving his car one evening and as he drew close to the community of Santo Domingo, five figures stepped out of the darkness and tried to get him to stop. He could see that had caps, but could not see whether they were in uniform. He did not stop the car but kept on going as he was afraid he would be robbed.

The men turned out to have been police officers led by the “sector chief”, who identified himself at trial as Armando Díaz. Bencomo's failure to stop for them – although he could not see them in the dark – formed the basis for the prosecution case.

Arbolaes said afterwards that the police officers who took the stand gave contradictory testimony. Bencomo told the court that one of the men fired three warning shots. Three of the four officers who testified that firearms were not used, but the fourth said shots were fired.

The photographer’s son, Yoel Bencomo Treto,  says it is common sense not to stop for strangers in this part of Cuba.

“In Cuba, when they want to imprison someone, they do so and that’s that,” he said. “My father didn’t commit any crime. He only took the precaution of not stopping for unknown individuals. Several drivers have been robbed in Villa Clara; some have even disappeared.”