Threat to Independent Cuban News Agency

Detained journalist says security service men promised to “eliminate” Hablemos Press.

Threat to Independent Cuban News Agency

Detained journalist says security service men promised to “eliminate” Hablemos Press.

Journalists of Hablemos Press. (Photo: Hablemos Press)
Journalists of Hablemos Press. (Photo: Hablemos Press)
Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

Officers from Cuba’s security service have threatened to close the independent Hablemos Press, according to the news agency’s head Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez.

Guerra Pérez was told this in a September 22 phone conversation with Hablemos Press reporter Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias, who was speaking from the prison where he is being held.

He said government security officers told Martínez Árias that they would “eliminate Hablemos Press”.

Martínez Árias is to face charges of “disrespect” towards Raul Castro and his brother Fidel Castro, the present and former Cuban presidents. He was detained on September 16 and treated in hospital a few days later for facial injuries sustained in custody.

The journalist has since been transferred to a Havana prison known as “Vivac”. If convicted, he could face between one to three years behind bars.

Martínez Árias has been detained on numerous occasions, but this is the first time that he has been charged with a crime. Guerra Pérez believes the Cuban security service want to take the journalist “out of circulation” for a while. (See Cuban Journalist Faces Charge of Insulting Castros.)

It is unclear how the authorities will frame the charge of defaming the Castro brothers. Martínez Árias’s recent reporting has examined how the authorities are handling dengue fever and cholera.

Independent journalists and human rights advocates are regularly detained in Cuba. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says “political conformity” is enforced through “short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions”.

Guerra Pérez was himself arrested and beaten by police officers earlier in September. (See Cuban Journalist's Mission to Tell the Truth.)

An editorial in the state newspaper Granma in late July described independent journalists, opposition parties and human rights defenders as “vulgar agents whom the United States government and its allies pay, supply and instruct. They betray their nation for a few coins.”

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez reports that the mobile phones of Guerra Pérez and his wife Magaly have been cut off since September 23. She describes this as “cellphone censorship”.

In a Twitter posting on September 25, Guerra Pérez said, “Neither my phone nor Magaly’s can receive calls. Only yesterday were we able to begin sending messages, but we can neither make nor receive calls.”

He suspects this is another attempt by the government to restrict Hablemos Press’s reporting on the human rights defenders and police repression.

Hugo Landa, who heads the US-based Cubanet website, says Hablemos Press plays an essential role by providing information about what is really happening in Cuba.

“Hablemos Press has become a source of independent information that covers the practically the entire island… despite the government siege that makes this very difficult,” he said. “They are also able to send their reports to the outside world with sufficient speed, giving them a value of immediacy that is often lacking due to restricted internet access in Cuba.”

Meanwhile, Martínez Árias has urged supporters to exercise restraint. In his phone conversation with Guerra Pérez, he said his colleagues should not proceed with a public protest they were planning on his behalf, and “not do anything to provoke more detentions”. He asked them to simply “continue their work as journalists.”

Dana Sants is a freelance journalist in Mexico. This story was first published on IWPR’s website.

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