11 April 2012

Dissident journalist takes own life after year in exile

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández
Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta

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A dissident Cuban journalist who was released last year and forced into exile has committed suicide, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 4 April, exiled Cuban journalist Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, 52, took his own life, in the Spanish city of Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands.

He was the last of more than 20 Cuban journalists to be released from prison in April 2011 and sent to Spain following July 2010 talks between the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church. Agreeing to go into exile was a condition for his release, as it was for most of the political prisoners who were freed.

Du Bouchet was the director of the Havana-based independent news agency Havana Press, which regularly covered opposition political news. He was jailed twice, in 2005 and 2009, on charges of "disrespect for authority." According to CPJ, he drew the ire of Cuban authorities after reporting on an unprecedented gathering of hundreds of Cuban opposition activists in 2005.

Like most political prisoners, Du Bouchet was jailed in inhumane conditions that included being served rotting food and living with overflowing wastewater, says CPJ.

News of his death was first reported by the exiled reporter Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta on Facebook.

Herrera said he did not know what motivated his friend but knew that he had been in pain. "Albert was very depressed and was really affected by the feeling of being cut off from one's roots that exile causes," Herrera told RSF.

According to CPJ, Spain is host to more than 100 Cuban political prisoners - and hundreds more of their relatives - who were freed as a result of the agreement.

CPJ explored the problems faced by the journalists exiled to Spain in a report published in July. It showed that although many of the journalists had their basic needs addressed, many of them faced economic woes and bureaucratic problems - like not being able to find jobs.

The Cuban authorities have still not honoured their international undertakings in regards to civil liberties, notes RSF. In particular, they have not yet ratified the two UN conventions on civil and political rights they signed in 2008. This was highlighted yet again during the Pope's visit from 26 to 29 March this year, which was accompanied by a crackdown on dissent and blocking of communications.

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