A hope of freedom for imprisoned independent journalist in Cuba

Via the Institute for War & Peace Reporting:

Hopes of Freedom for Cuban Journalist

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias abandons three-week hunger strike after authorities hint at release.

The Cuban authorities have promised to release detained journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias within days, according to Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, head of the independent news agency Hablemos Press.

Speaking on March 29, Guerra Pérez said the authorities had indicated that Martínez Arias, detained since September, would be moved from the Combinado del Este prison to the Valle Grande facility in the coming days, and then released. In response to the apparent concession, Martínez Arias had ended a 22-day hunger strike.

Although Guerra Pérez, for whose news agency Martínez Arias was a reporter, welcomed the move, he described it as “illogical” given that the suspect had been held for six months without trial.

“I’ll believe it when I see him on the outside,” Guerra Pérez told the online news site Diario de Cuba.

As of March 16, Martínez Arias had been in jail for six months, and was 11 days into his second hunger strike to demand his freedom. (See Cuban Journalist on Second Hunger Strike.)

He was accused of the crime of “disrespect” for allegedly insulting past and present Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro, but was not given a trial date. His lawyer Joaquín Hernando was never given access to prosecution case files.

At the end of January, Amnesty International declared Martínez Arias a prisoner of conscience.

Since March 20, dissident groups have held six-hour vigils every day to press for the journalist’s release.

Sara Martha Fonseca, executive secretary of the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party, said members in Camagüey, Santa Clara and Holguín had joined the peaceful protest. Other groups like the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party and the National Front for Civic Resistance were also taking part.

Hablemos Press has been leading an international campaign on the journalist’s behalf on social media websites. On March 22, it delivered a letter to the papal nuncio in Havana asking newly-elected Pope Francis to intercede with President Raúl Castro’s government to secure the immediate release of Martínez Arias.

“Your Holiness, we are deeply concerned at Calixto Ramón’s situation. The prison authorities have transferred him to a punishment cell… without the right to go outside at any time of day for sunlight or fresh air, in order to force him to end his hunger strike,” the letter from Hablemos Press said.

On her recent world tour, famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez raised Martínez Arias’s cases during public appearances.

(See also Five Months On, Cuban Journalist Still Held for Castro “Insult”.)

Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba.