Friday, September 14, 2012

Cuba: Cuban independent journalist beaten by state security officers

Source: International Press Institute 

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Sept. 13, 2012 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the detention and beating of a leading independent Cuban journalist reportedly by Cuban state security forces, and expressed concern for the whereabouts of a missing correspondent.

Roberto de Jesús Guerra, editor of the news website Hablemos Press, was detained along with one of the site's photographers, Gerardo Youmel Ávila Perdomo, while the two were on their way to an Internet training course at the Czech embassy in Havana, reports said. Hours later, another Hablemos Press journalist, Magaly Norvis, who has also been identified as Jesús Guerra's wife, tweeted that Jesús Guerra had been released but “savagely beaten beyond recognition”.

A man who identified himself as Jesús Guerra later described the incident via Háblalo sin Miedo, a voice-based communications service commonly used by Cuban activists, reporting, “I was kidnapped a few blocks from our home by a gang of state security officers, who punched me in the face and arms.” Jesús Guerra said he was then taken to a police station and that along the way the officers had blindfolded him and beat him repeatedly.

Norvis told El Nuevo Herald that Jesús Guerra had been accused by a state security agent of “inciting disorder” and ordered to report to a police station. Jesús Guerra refused, she said, arguing that the police had not given sufficient notice of the summons as required by law.

While it was unclear to what exactly the “disorder” charges may have referred, Hablemos Press is known as one of Cuba's leading opposition media outlets, and devotes significant coverage to the detention and harassment of political dissidents and journalists in Cuba, in addition to corruption, poverty, and disease on the island. In its August monthly report, the agency said it had recorded 3636 human-rights violations in Cuba since the beginning of 2012, 538 of those in August alone. A number of Hablemos Press journalists and contributors themelves have been detained by the government in the past.

Through Twitter, Jesús Guerra revealed that police had also confiscated his mobile phone, adding that he would file a complaint for robbery and declared: “I will continue my journalistic work and I hold [Cuban president] Raúl Castro and his henchmen responsible for whatever happens to me and my family.”

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said, “IPI condemns the reported detention and beating of Roberto de Jesús Guerra, which is unacceptable and unfortunately indicative of the press freedom situation in Cuba, which is one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere. We call once again upon the Cuban government to cease its harassment and intimidation of independent journalists.”

Early this morning, the Spain-based Diario de Cuba reported that one of its correspondents in Cuba, Alberto Méndez Castelló had disappeared Wednesday morning after leaving his home on assignment, based on information supplied by Méndez Castelló's wife.

According to Diario de Cuba, Méndez Castelló had been under constant surveillance by Cuban authorities and had been previously detained on numerous occasions, including in March of this year. The news site indicated it had attempted to contact Méndez Castelló but that the journalist's phone was shut off IPI expressed concern Méndez Castelló and urged Cuban authorities to immediately work to clarify his whereabouts.