Ley Mordaza – Gag Law
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    (38TH Annual Conference of the International Organization of Human Rights)
    Rolf Beller, International Organization of Human Rights

    ISHR Annual General Meeting – Year 2010

    Since the seizure of power of the Castro brothers in the year 1959, the
    press was at first controlled and then censored so that work for
    journalists has always been hazardous, not to say impossible as media in
    Cuba is limited to state controlled radio & television broadcasting
    networks and their official Newspaper Granma.

    Latest in March 2003, the friction between the Government and the Press
    openly broke up with the arrest of 75 people, of which 27 where
    Journalists. All these people received a so called "express trial" with
    prison terms between 6 and 28 years.

    This, together with the inhuman treatment dissidents were being dealt
    with in Cuban prisons, have been important reasons why ISHR decided,
    roughly 6 years ago, to install an electronic data file containing all
    imprisoned dissidents. In this file: age, date of birth, marital status
    and contact person as well as day and reason of arrest, charge, years of
    imprisonment, name of jail, health status and personal information is
    registered and actualized.

    In accordance to this data file, there are actually 208 political
    prisoners in Cuba, of which 22 are independent journalists.

    From which sources does ISHR obtain their information? ISHR maintains a
    close contact to Miscelaneas de Cuba, Mothers Against Repression, to the
    Ladies in White, to Reports from the Christian Freedom Movement through
    Oswaldo Paya, from Directorio Democrático Cubano, Payolibre, Miami
    Herald, Solidaridad Española in Madrid as well as a number of individual
    persons in Cuba, Miami, Washington and other important US and European

    A further reliable source of information is the Cuban Council of Human
    Rights Reporters based in Havana, an organisation that gives detailed
    monthly information and a years summary report stating the number of
    arrests and their charges, number of deaths and suicides in Cuban
    prisons as well as detailed information regarding the inhuman handling
    of political prisoners.

    A further source of information is the since shortly active ISHR Working
    Group in Cuba lead by Jorge Luis García Antúnez, a Cuban Human Rights
    Activist who has been repeatedly imprisoned, the last time in March 1990
    for 17 ½ years due to his open criticism towards the Cuban Communist
    Party and attempted escape from the Island.

    After fulfilling his sentence, he was released from prison in August 07,
    but much to the annoyance of the Cuban Government, Antúnez remained an
    active human rights defender and has since been arrested in several

    One was on July 3rd 2008 to prevent him joining the US Independence day
    festivities organized in the US Missions Office in Cuba and a year
    later, on July 23rd, he was arrested together with Dr. Darsi Ferrer.
    Antúnez and his wife – Iris Tamara – were released after having been
    interrogated for several hours, however their whereabouts are since then
    unknown. Juan Carlos Leiva is a further member of the ISHR Working Group.

    He also is a very courageous blind activist, accused of insulting Fidel
    Castro and for having promoted enemy propaganda but really due to his
    activities as independent journalist and human rights activist. He was
    charged in March 03 with a 20 years prison term but due to his fragile
    health, Leiva was lucky to receive a "limited" freedom in December 05.

    From the registered 208 political prisoners:

    81 received imprisonment between 01 and 10 years;
    68, 11 and 20 years;
    41, 21 and more years.

    Just for the sake of comparison: in Germany life imprisonment is 15
    years. With what charges are political prisoners usually accused?

    Breaching Law Nr. 88 108 prisoners
    Piracy, flight threat, illegal cross border 39
    Disrespectful handling of officials 29
    Danger for Society 26

    What actions breach Law Nr. 88?when foreign telephone numbers are found
    registered in the accused private phonebook;
    - when foreign books and magazines found in the house of the accused are
    considered by
    the court subversive;
    - when the accused has been interviewed by Radio Marti and/or foreign press;
    - when the accused openly defends human rights and/or requests their
    -when the accused is charged to have endangered the national
    sovereignty or endangered the economy of Cuba.All of those 22
    Journalists that are actually registered in the ISHR data files, with
    the exception of 3, have received prison terms between 20 and 25 years
    for breaching the stated Law 88. In 1 case the journalist has been
    charged of piracy and the other 2 journalists have been charged as
    dangerous for society.

    What is considered "piracy"?
    All those who try to escape from the island, or arouse suspicion by
    being owners of a boat or any other floatable object, are accused with
    the offense of piracy. This infraction usually carries prison terms in
    the region of 20 and more years.

    The journalist Luis Campos Corrales was condemned in August 1994 to a
    prison term of 25 years, person who is actually incarcerated in
    Combinado del Sur Jail in the Province of Matanzas where, in accordance
    to his mother Georgia Corrales, he is being treated "worse then a dog".

    The offense "Danger for Society" is applied when the court has no
    substantial proof or evidence against the accused, but arouses suspicion
    of being a possible opponent. The 39 political prisoners that have been
    charged with this verdict registered in our data bank, were condemned to
    terms between 18 months and 4 years, a relatively mild sentence for
    Cuban standards.

    Most of these charges would probably be unsustainable under normal trial
    conditions. Actually the prosecuted person in court has practically no
    chance to prove his innocence, as the accused cannot request witnesses
    nor can he or her rely on a defending lawyer.

    Further, trials are usually held with a limited number of people but
    usually with the presence of a family member as in these trials, not
    only are the accused charged with prison terms, but also their family
    members are affected with surveillance and unwelcome search-warrants of
    their property executed by the state security, their children are
    observed and tormented in school and friends threatened to end their
    friendship with the family of the accused person.

    They are also victims of so called Rejection Demonstrations through a
    mob, organised and executed by agents of the state security. Usually
    revolutionary slogans and insults are shouted out to harm members of the
    family and objects thrown against their houses to scare their occupants.

    The inhuman prison conditions, the complete lack of hygiene,
    indigestible food and the unscrupulous behaviour of the prison guards,
    are crucial factors that endanger the prisoners health and are often
    cause of their death. It is not seldom that political prisoners are
    placed into cells, sometimes completely naked, together with 100 and
    more ordinary prisoners who are induced by the state security, to injure
    or threaten him with death or just simply terrorise the victim.

    Most of the political prisoners start their terms in a healthy
    condition, however many today are seriously ill. The usual ailments are:
    stomach lining and stomach – intestinal inflammation, under nourishment,
    high blood pressure, eye diseases up to blindness, Kidney and liver
    insufficiency, heart problems, parasites, amoeba, arthritis, allergies,
    depression, dizziness, epilepsy and insomnia. Inhuman is, that when
    medical help is requested, this is often ignored by the prison guards.

    Should the prisoner be lucky and taken to the medical station, ailments
    normally cannot be treated as medicine is scarce or simply not
    available. It is estimated that 500 prisoners have died in Cuban prisons
    during the last 4 years. This figure shows a growing trend as well as
    the number of suicides, registered with 99 deaths in the last 2 years, a
    alarming figure. Both figures are dark figures, however ISHR has
    recorded 74 deaths since 2008 in Cuban prisons.

    An effective but dangerous method used by political prisoners to draw
    attention to their cause is the hunger strike. In accordance to the UN
    Human Rights Commission, 12 prisoners have, since the Castro Brothers
    took over power in 1959, died as consequence of their action.

    The latest casualty was Orlando Zapata Tamayo who, after 83 days of
    hunger, died on February 25th. Presently 2 dozen political prisoners are
    on hunger strike in different Cuban prisons, many with shattered health
    and in mortal danger, as in the case of the 46 year old Ariel Siegler
    Amaya, arrested in March 2003, charged with a prison term of 25 years
    for having endangered Cubas independence. He was, at the time of his
    arrest a gym teacher and in perfect health condition.

    Today he is a very sick man, he has lost a lot of body weight, has to be
    transferred often to a hospital where nothing has been achieved to
    improve his medical record. Also the health of Ricardo Galván Casals is
    shattered, person that decided to go on hunger strike on March 8th after
    prison guards rejected handing him his medicine.

    After he had pronounced himself on hunger strike, he was put 5 days in
    an isolated, dark and damp cell, like many before him, where he had to
    sleep on the bare floor and his drinking water was severely controlled.
    Since February 25th Dr. Guillermo Fariñas, a independent journalist and
    psychiatrist living as a free person in Santa Clara, declared himself on
    hunger strike to obtain the release of 26 seriously ill political prisoners.

    One of these persons is Juan Carlos Acosta, a 43 year old metal worker
    and independent journalist who is in jail, condemned to 20 years in
    March 2003, accused of supplying Guatemala and the USA with damaging
    reports with the intention to discredit the Cuban Government. Due to his
    suffering in prison, Acosta has lost 20kg weight. In the mean time,
    Guillermo Fariñas suffered a breakdown and had to be rushed to Hospital
    on March 11th .

    As can be concluded, there are a number of Cubans who are prepared to
    risk their Health, and even their lives, to end their desperate
    situation in jail but also to protest against Castros censorship. More
    pressure then this is impossible and further measures can only be
    generated in overseas. But what could these be?

    Not only is Miami the most numerous Cuban city after Havana, but also
    other important US cities have today a large Cuban community. All over
    the US, but particularly in Miami, a number of NGOs and other
    organisations are working hard to help the Cuban people "survive" their
    desperate economical situation and in preparing Cuba for the time after
    tyranny. However, the majority of these organisation are "cooking their
    own soup" and are not "in one boat" speaking with one single strong voice.

    Although there is hardly a dictatorship that is freely prepared to give
    up censorship, the weight of this one voice could probably have more
    influence to ease censorship then the hard work of all the individual
    Cuban Organisations in exile. From the EU governments, similar procedure
    must be expected and not, as is presently the case, that countries like
    Spain, which is constantly prepared to make compromises with the Cuban
    Authorities, jeopardizes EU policies.

    This has also been reason why the success of EU policies has been
    modest. No doubt, even the longest dictatorship has a biological end and
    fortunately the Castro Dictatorship is not exempted from this fate.
    Thank you.


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