Jailed Cuban journalist describes conditions in Havana prison as "uninhabitable"

  • By
  • December 17, 2012

By Alejandro Martínez

The anti-censorship website from Reporters Without Borders, We Fight Censorship, recently highlighted the case of Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who was jailed in September, 2012, by authorities after he published a series of articles about a health crisis on the island. The website published the articles that led to his arrest and two telephone conversations offering a rare look into the prison's harsh conditions from the inside.

Martínez Arias, a journalist for the independent news group Hablemos Press, was arrested on Sept. 16, 2012, after publishing several articles about a dengue and cholera epidemic that began in June in the eastern part of the island that the official press did not cover. Police violently arrested Martínez Arias while he was working on another story and accused him of disrespecting Fidel and Raúl Castro.

According to We Fight Censorship, Martínez Arias was able to contact Hablemos Press two months after his arrest from the Combinando del Este prison in the capital, Havana. In the conversation, recorded by the organization, Martínez Arias, who went on a hunger strike to protest being forced to wear a prison uniform before being tried, described the prison as "uninhabitable":

"I should denounce the state of overcrowding that is happening at this prison, in a space of 13 to 14 meters long and 6 wide live 36 prisoners," Martínez Arias said. "The first day I arrived here I had to sleep on the floor because of the overpopulation here. An official explained to me that I was not the only one sleeping on the floor, that in almost all of the companies there were one to two prisoners sleeping on the floor."

Days later, the political prisoner Alexander Roberto Fernández Rico spoke with Habana Press again to report that Matínez Arias was held in a punishment cell.

"At this moment, Calixto Ramón is on a hunger strike, I repeat, I repeat, he is on a hunger strike because they want him to wear the clothes of a prisoner when he is under provisional detention and being tortured," said Fernández Rico during the telephone conversation. "They took his bed, the mattress, the two sheets to cover himself, all his clothes, all his clothes." He went on to say the journalist was only given a 1.5 liter bottle of fetid water to drink.

According to We Fight Censorship, the prison's authorities threatened to put prisoners making the phone calls in punishment cells. Martínez has been out of the punishment cell since Dec. 6, reported the website.

Visit the We Fight Censorship website to read the articles that landed Martínez Arias in jail and hear the complete recordings of his telephone conversations.

Martínez Arias was the only reporter in Latin America named in the Committee to Protect Journalists' 2012 list of imprisoned journalists. Activist organizations like the Latin American Federation of Rural Women have called for Martínez Arias' release, reported PayoLibre.com. The case was brought before the United Nations' Working Group for Arbitrary Detention, reported Diario de Cuba.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.