20 May 2009

Journalist sentenced to three years on "disrespect" charges

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A Cuban journalist has been sentenced to three years in jail on charges of "disrespect for authority," report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director for the independent news agency Habana Press, was arrested on 18 April just outside of Havana while he was visiting relatives. The police claimed Du Bouchet Hernández was shouting anti-government slogans in the street.

According to news reports, he was allegedly denied a fair trial, including access to a lawyer. It is unclear if he is also facing charges for distributing enemy propaganda.

Miriam Herrera, an independent journalist based in Havana who has spoken to Du Bouchet Hernández since he's been jailed, told CPJ she believed he was imprisoned in reprisal for his work - he had recently reported on social issues.

The IFEX members are asking the Cuban government to make public the reasons for Du Bouchet's arrest and imprisonment, and, if he is being charged for the non-violent expression of his views, to release him.

Du Bouchet Hernández has previously been jailed on "disrespect" ("desacato") charges, say the members. He was arrested in August 2005 a few months after covering the congress of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The two-day gathering, unprecedented in Cuba, brought together 200 opposition activists and guests to discuss ways to create democracy in Cuba. Du Bouchet Hernández was released in August 2006 after serving a one-year sentence.

Du Bouchet has appealed his sentence but it is unlikely he will succeed. According to WiPC, of the many writers, journalists and librarians imprisoned during the "Black Spring" crackdown in April 2003 who appealed their sentences, none were successful.

According to CPJ, 21 independent reporters and editors are currently jailed in Cuba, which is the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world after China.

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