Freedom of Expression


99.       Cuba continues to be a concern for the Office of the Special Rapporteur due to the absence of a pluralistic democracy, which translates in practice as a systematic violation of freedom of expression.  The legal system places countless restrictions on the ability to disseminate and receive information.  Moreover, tactics of intimidation and repression are used to put further pressure on journalists and dissidents to prevent them from criticizing the government.


Threats and Aggression


100.     On February 27, 2002, police and state security agents attacked Reuters journalists Alfredo Tedeschi and Andrew Cawthorne with batons while they covered an incident in front of the Mexican embassy in Havana.


101.  According to the information received, a group of Cuban citizens used a bus to crash into the gates of the embassy in hopes of seeking asylum, according to international news reports.  Police chased, beat, and detained several onlookers who had congregated outside the embassy.  Two Reuters journalists were caught in the fray: Tedeschi, a cameraman, was beaten to the ground by police, and his camera was taken. Cawthorne, Reuters' Cuba correspondent, was beaten on the arm and back.[i]


102.  On March 4, 2002, Jesús Álvarez Castillo, a correspondent for CubaPress, was covering a protest of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights (FCDH), in the city of Ciego de Ávila, when a police officer applied a strangulation device and injured his neck.


103.  On the way to the police station, Álvarez Castillo lost consciousness and had to be taken to a local hospital, where x-rays revealed a sprained cervical vertebra.[ii]


104.  The same day, several journalists and activists from the FCDH gathered in the hospital to protest the attack against Álvarez Castillo.  During that gathering, several persons were struck by the police, forced into police cars, and taken to the local unit of the Technical Investigations Department of the Cuban Criminal Police.  The members of the group included Lester Tellez Castro, director of the independent news service Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña and organizing secretary of the FCDH, and Carlos Brizuela Yera, a reporter with the independent news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey.[iii]


105.  According to the information received on the same day, Téllez Castro, who heads of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA) and Brizuela Yera, who works for the Colegio de Periodístas Independientes de Camaguey, were beaten by police on March 4 and then detained along with eight human rights activists.  They were arrested on their way to visit Jesús Alvarez Castillo, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Ciego de Avila (central Cuba), who had been hospitalized after being beaten up the same day by police.


106.  Téllez Castro was transferred to a prison in Cienfuegos (west of Ciego de Avila) on March 11 and Brizuela Yera was sent to a detention center in the eastern province of Holguín.  The two men are expected to be charged with "insulting behavior," as well as "causing trouble in a medical facility" and "refusing to obey instructions."  APLA director Téllez Castro has been on hunger strike since March 5.  The eight human rights activists were also taken to detention centers.[iv]


107.  According to information received, on March 21, 2002, state security police officers prevented the association's journalism classes in Havana from going ahead.  Three independent journalists, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Dorka Céspedes Vela and Omar Rodríguez Saludes, were stopped on their way to the home of Ricardo González Alfonso, the association's president.  Two other journalists, Carmelo Díaz Fernández and Victor Manuel Domínguez García, already at González Alfonso's home, were intercepted as they left by a policeman who warned them the classes were illegal.  Later that night, association member Iván García Quintero was interrogated by two state security police officers about the association's activities.[v]




108.  On February 23, 2002, Cuban journalist Carlos Alberto Domínguez, of the Cuba Verdad independent press agency, was arrested.  According to the information received, Domínguez was arrested at his home by four state security police and jailed first in Havana at a center run by the Technical Investigation Department (DTI), which is part of the Interior Ministry and notorious for ill-treating prisoners.  The health of the journalist, who suffers from migraines and high blood pressure, deteriorated badly and since March 8 he has been held at the Mariana military hospital.  Domínguez has reportedly been charged with "disturbing public order" and "refusing to obey instructions"[vi].


109.  On May 3, 2002, Garcell Pérez, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) news agency, was detained and beaten for one hour.  The incident occurred at the Juan Paz Camejo hospital, Sagua de Tánamo municipality, in the province of Holguín, eastern Cuba.  At the time, the journalist had been recording an interview with a patient's mother for an article he was writing.  According to information provided by Raúl Rivero, the regional vice-president in Cuba of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, National Police and state security officers raided Garcell Pérez's home at midnight on Friday, May 3.  The officers seized five books on journalistic practices, documents, letters, magazines and the journalist's files.  The journalist is the Holguín representative of the Sociedad Manuel Márquez Sterling, an association not recognized by the Cuban authorities that provides training courses for independent journalists.  Garcell Pérez was released on Saturday afternoon and fined 400 pesos.  He was given a warning and an official card, which identifies him as an "individual highly likely to commit a crime"[vii].


110.  On July 30, 2002, journalist Angel Pablo Polanco of the Servicio Noticuba was arrested at his home in Havana.  State Security officials came to his home in the early hours of the morning and searched it for several hours.  According to Polanco's wife, Angela Salinas, the security officials seized technical material, many documents and money.  Finally, at around 9 pm, they arrested Polanco without showing a warrant.  When Polanco refused to go with them, they took him away by force.  He has been detained at State Security headquarters in Villa Maristas, in Havana.  His wife, who has been authorized to visit him on August 6, has said she does not know whether her husband has been charged.  Polanco's arrest, which was preceded by the arrest of two government opponents the day before, comes in the run-up to a day of protest against the Castro government that had been called for August 5 by opposition organizations.  Polanco was previously arrested by two State Security officials on February 23, 2000 after having published reports on the proceedings against Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, president of the Lawton Foundation.  Prior to that, Polanco was briefly held for questioning five times in 1999.[viii]


State regulation


111.          On January 16, 2002, a decree was approved by the Ministry of Domestic Commerce prohibiting the sale of personal computers to individuals.  According to an article published on March 25 in the digital periodical, Decree 383/2001 prohibits "the sale of computers, printers, duplicating machines, photocopiers, or any other instrument for large-scale printing" to any association, foundation, nonprofit civil organization, or individual.  In cases where the purchase of such equipment or related spare parts or accessories is considered indispensable, authorization must be requested from the Ministry of Domestic Commerce.


112.          According to the information received, this prohibition was issued after the launch of a web page by the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists–an illegal organization–(, directed by the dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque.  Access to this web page from within Cuba was blocked on December 7, less than one week after it opened.  According to the information provided, access to the Internet is strictly regulated in Cuba and subject to respect for "the moral principles of Cuban society and the laws of the country.”  Access is restricted to foreign companies and government institutions.  Two cybercafes have been set up but one is reserved for tourists, and access to the other is restricted to members of the Official Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC).


113.          Since September 2001, four post offices in Havana have offered Cubans access to the Internet and the possibility of creating an electronic address.  However, navigation is limited to web pages approved by the authorities, referred to as "the Intranet."[ix]




114.          On May 5, 2002, The dissident writer Vladimiro Roca Antúnez was released, 70 days before the completion of his five-year sentence.


115.          An honorary member of English PEN, Roca Antúnez, aged 59, was arrested on July 16, 1997, a month after the publication of a pamphlet entitled "La Patria es de Todos" ("The Homeland Belongs to Everyone").  In it, Roca Antúnez and his co-authors -Félix Bonne Carcasses, René Gómez Manzano, and Marta Roque Cabello – urged the Cuban government to hold democratic elections, liberalize the economy and improve human rights.  All four were found guilty in March 1999 of "sedition and other acts against state security."  Roca Antúnez was given the longest sentence, presumably because he was the most prominent of the four, being the son of Blas Roca, one of the founders of communism in Cuba.  Roca Antúnez is the last of the four to be freed.[x]


116.          In November 2002, Cuban authorities confiscated the files and photographs of French journalist Catherine David, who had entered Cuba on a tourist visa to report on the human rights situation and dissidents.


117.          David, who works for the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, was stopped at Havana international airport on October 8 as she was going through customs with a friend who is a sculptor and photographer.  They were led to a room in the airport's basement where their bags were searched thoroughly.


118.          All the files on David's computer were copied.  Her audio tapes containing interviews with dissidents and all her notes were confiscated.  All of her rolls of film as well as several books and reports on the human rights situation in Cuba were also seized.  The customs officials also copied all of the pages in David's address book.  In Cuba, Law 88 of March 1999 provides for up to eight years in prison for any person assisting the foreign news media.


119.          After missing their flight because of the length of the search, the two individuals were finally able to leave Cuba two days later.  David's requests for the return of her material, which she has since then addressed to the Cuban customs agency, have so far been in vain.[xi]

[i] Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), March 1, 2002.

[ii] Id., March 14, 2002.

[iii] Id., March 1, 2002

[iv] Reporters without Borders (RSF), March 15, 2002 and The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN).

[v] RSF, March 28, 2002.

[vi] Id., March 15, 2002.

[vii] Inter-American Press Association (SIP/IAPA), May 7, 2002.

[viii] Reporters Without Borders, August 2, 2002.

[ix] Id., March 29, 2002.

[x] Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN, London, May 15, 2002.

[xi] Reporters Without Borders (RSF), November 22, 2002.