Groups report rise in attacks on the independent press since change in Cuban presidency

  • By
  • August 21, 2018

By Valeria López de Vergara and Teresa Mioli

The accounts are similar: members of the Political Police and the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) search a journalist’s house for a few hours. The journalist is taken away and detained for a couple hours, a day or two, and then released.

A journalist arrives at the airport for a trip abroad, only to be told by immigration officials that they can’t leave the country.

Since Miguel Díaz-Canel became President of Cuba in April 2018, “repression against journalists is greater,” José Antonio Fornaris, president of Cuba’s Pro Press Freedom Association (APLP, for its initials in Spanish), told the Knight Center.

Fornaris noted that, recently, searches on journalists’ homes have increased dramatically and that bans on leaving the country have also grown in recent months.

The APLP, which keeps a count of journalists detained, abducted and disappeared, included a dozen attacks in its July report, but clarified that “the possibility of the existence of others is real.” For all of 2018, the organization recorded “67 attacks against journalists up to the month of July.

Normando Hernández, director general of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press (ICLEP), agrees that searches and other attacks have increased since Díaz-Canel took office.

“But, threats, arrests and physical aggressions against alternative journalists on the island have also increased,” Hernández told the Knight Center. “And the saddest of all is the impunity enjoyed by the aggressors and the complicit silence of regional and international institutions and organizations that do not condemn the Cuban regime’s actions.”

In late June, ICLEP reported that community media outlets and journalists in its network were “suffering the greatest repressive wave that the Cuban regime has unleashed this year, against freedom of expression and the press on the island.”

In a July 7 report, the organization reported that in the past 24 days, 14 of the journalists that make up its network suffered aggressions including interrogations, arbitrary detentions, as well as psychological and physical aggressions from the Political Police.

One of the cases recorded by the APLP for the month of July is that of journalist Emiliano González Olivera, a contributor to Cubanet, who was a victim of this increase in housing raids. Last month, agents of the Political Police and PNR entered the journalist's house without presenting any search warrant and proceeded to search the home, according to APLP.

"During the operation, the journalist was stripped of his cell phone, a laptop, two cameras, books, documents and various data storage devices," according to the most recent report from the APLP. The organization said that he was locked in a police car for about three hours during the search and then taken to the Center for Criminal Instruction of the State Security in Granma, where he was kept for two hours.

A similar case happened on July 3 to another Cubanet journalist, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, whose house was searched by Political Police and the PNR for three hours, according to APLP. He was also arrested and released two days later.

On May 30, the APLP said it suffered a raid itself in which not only all its work equipment was taken, but also all documentation they found.

Other cases recorded in July by the APLP include detained journalists, searches and bans on leaving the country.

The latter was the situation of Ana León, a contributor to the digital news site Cubanet, who was prohibited from leaving the island for the second time.

Last July, the journalist was preparing to travel to Miami, when just moments before boarding at the José Martí Airport, "an immigration officer requested the boarding pass, broke it, and asked her to accompany him to an office. There he informed her that she was forbidden to leave the country; the official added that he did not know the reasons for the measure, that he only carried out orders," the APLP said.

The APLP invites any journalist who suffers an aggression to report the case to the organization.