April 7, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

International community can no longer ignore fate of Cuba’s imprisoned journalists and dissidents

“How many more deaths will be needed in Cuban prisons?” was the question posed at a news conference held today at Reporters Without Borders headquarters in Paris for representatives of the French, Spanish and Latin American media. This question has been more pressing than ever since political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death on 23 February. Some independent journalists such as Guillermo Fariñas, who is not currently detained, and Darsi Ferrer, who is in prison, have decided to follow Zapata’s example by going on an indefinite hunger strike to press for the release of the prisoners of conscience who are in poorest health. The 25 journalists currently in prison in Cuba include Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who is serving a 25-year jail sentence which he received during “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003. His state of health has deteriorated markedly in recent months. After Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard opened the news conference, Cuban writer Zoé Valdés described how the authorities recently stepped up their repression of the Ladies in White, a movement formed by the mothers, wives and sisters of political prisoners. A march that the Ladies in White held in Havana on 17 March, on the eve of the “Black Spring” anniversary, was dispersed in a particularly brutal manner. Valdés also referred to the deterioration in the Castro regime’s image since Zapata’s death. Another participant, writer and academic Jacobo Machover, criticised the readiness of certain governments - in France, Spain and Latin America - to tolerate the arbitrary actions of a regime that has still not ratified the two UN human rights conventions it signed when Raúl Castro was officially installed as his brother’s successor in February 2008. “The dissidents on hunger strike are not doing it for themselves but for everyone,” Machover said, adding that, “today we are seeing the rebirth of a small hope for the island’s future, one that many had ceased to cherish.” Referring to the letter that Reporters Without Borders wrote to Brazil’s President Lula on 17 March and to its contacts with the European Union’s Spanish presidency, Julliard concluded: “We are waiting for a response from governments regardless of their tendency. The International community cannot continue to remain silent in the face of the suffering of these dissidents and the lack of freedoms imposed by a regime whose hints of a possible opening stopped short at the threshold of human rights.