After being kidnapped, jailed, and persecuted by the Cuban government for his reporting, Santiago approached the US border seeking political asylum on April 13. He was detained and has since been held at the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) South Texas Detention Center while his asylum application is pending. Santiago fears he will be attacked or even killed if he returns to Cuba, and has already passed a credible fear screening, which the US authorities use to determine whether there are grounds that a real threat exists. He is next due to appear in court on October 12, 2018.
An independent reporter for media outlets including Univision 23, Telemundo, Primavera Digital and TVMarti, Santiago told RSF he was targeted by the authorities for covering political issues, including police misconduct and human rights. Santiago alleges that he was kidnapped and beaten in June 2016 by Cuban state security officers after he criticized government actions in his reporting. Santiago was again arrested and his equipment confiscated on September 2, 2017, on his way to interview one of the leaders of a socialist dissident movement in Cuba.
Santiago eventually fled Cuba for Guyana and then Mexico, where he stayed in a migrant refugee center for a little more than a month until the Cuban Embassy in Mexico began to target him. Seeking political asylum, he approached the US border in April and was immediately detained by ICE. Santiago is receiving pro-bono legal assistance through a non-profit organization dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants, and is in regular contact with RSF.
“Serafin Moran Santiago came to the US seeking refuge from the Cuban authorities and has instead been detained by ICE for more than three months,” said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America director. “His deportation to Cuba, where independent journalists are targeted and harassed by the authorities, is not an option. Therefore we call on the US government to release Serafin immediately while he awaits resolution of his request for asylum.”
Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment, all of which are reinforced by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Mexico remains the western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists, where more than 100 journalists have been killed since the year 2000, and 20 have disappeared.
Serafin Moran Santiago’s case echoes that of two recent cases of Mexican journalists. Martin Mendez approached the US border in 2017 seeking asylum from the dangers of reporting in Mexico, but eventually gave up his request after spending months in an ICE detention facility with unlivable conditions. Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a journalist who was taken along with his son into ICE custody in December 2017, was held in a detention center near El Paso, Texas, until his release on July 26. He is still awaiting a decision in his asylum request.
The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries on RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Cuba ranks 172/180.
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