HAVANA, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Cuba on Wednesday freed an independent
reporter, working illegally outside state media, whose six-day detention
brought denunciations from local colleagues and an international journalists'
The temporary arrest of Juan Antonio Sanchez Rodriguez followed last
week's government round-up and later release of 13 Cuban dissidents,
including another independent journalist.
Dissidents in Cuba say this month's arrests, which they describe as the
significant move against illegal activism since Pope John Paul II's visit in
January, were intended as a warning and preventive measure against open
acts of defiance.
Raul Rivero, head of the Cuba Press news agency, where Sanchez works,
confirmed his release Wednesday from a detention centre in the western
province of Pinar del Rio.
"They've just let him go this morning. I've spoken to him, and he's okay,"
Members of Cuba's independent press had been calling since his Sept. 10
detention for the release of Sanchez and an end to alleged government
"hostility" against them.
Their appeal was backed by Paris-based journalists' rights groups,
Reporters Without Borders, which sent an open letter Tuesday to Cuban
President Fidel Castro.
"Reporters Without Borders appeals for Juan Antonio Sanchez Rodriguez to
be freed immediately and for independent journalists to be able to inform
freely," said the letter, signed by the group's secretary general Robert
The Cuban government has given no information or comment on the case,
beyond reiterating that it has the right to detain anyone suspected of illegal
activity. In general, Havana accuses the independent journalists, who number
around 40, of being anti-government political agitators and "mercenaries"
who are often backed and funded by the United States.
The ruling Communist Party has traditionally regarded the state media,
only ones published or broadcast here since soon after Castro's 1959
revolution, as guardians of ethically pure "revolutionary journalism."
Independent journalists in Cuba said Sanchez, 47, was held and released
Wednesday without charges or explanation. Rivero had previously urged
"his immediate freedom as well as an end to all hostility by the Cuban
government against independent journalists."
Independent journalists allege regular harassment like visits by state
or having their phones cut.
Some of Sanchez' colleagues suspected his detention was due to an
altercation he appeared to have with a state security member during a
religious procession in Havana last Tuesday.
Reporters Without Borders said, in its letter to Castro, that, it seemed
had been held simply "because of his journalistic activities."
Independent journalists say three of their colleagues are serving long-term
detentions, one a six-year jail sentence for calling Castro a "liar."
Under the penal code, anti-government or "counter-revolutionary" activity
a potential criminal offence if deemed one of a range of offences including
"enemy propaganda," "disrespect," "spreading false information," "illicit
association," "rebellion" or "secret printing."
In May, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists denounced
Castro as one of the world's 10 "Enemies of the Press" despite "implicit
promises" to Pope John Paul II on his January visit that there would be more
freedom of expression in Cuba.
"Castro continues his control over all media outlets, and his harsh treatment
of independent journalists, who are routinely detained, arrested and beaten,
or forced into exile, especially before major political events," the CPF said
Havana denies that and, in turn, says the foreign news media are often
champions of imperialist and capitalist ideology. In a recent speech, Castro
denounced those foreign journalists "whose principal aim is to tarnish
socialism, demoralise this revolution and fight it with all sorts of lies and
Cuba's independent reporters do not publish or broadcast work formally
the island, but normally send material abroad for use in foreign publications
or on the Internet.
They have a keen market in Florida, which is the main focus for Cuban
exiles and anti-Castro sentiment, but insist their work is also used in other
parts of the world like Latin America and Europe.
Independent Cuban journalists have in the past been the targets of "acts
rejection" or government-inspired mass meetings outside their homes to
chant slogans and abuse, according to diplomats and the journalists.