Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Next week, President Barack Obama will visit Cuba, the first sitting
    President of the United States to do so since 1928. Reporters Without
    Borders (RSF) has written an open letter to President Obama asking him
    to consider freedom of the press and access to information top
    priorities during his trip.

    Paris, March 18, 2016

    Dear Mr. President,

    While you are about to embark on a landmark visit to Cuba next week,
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges you to make freedom of the press
    and access to information top priorities. As the first sitting American
    president to visit Cuba in 88 years, you have the power and the duty to
    positively influence its policies on these issues, by raising them both
    publicly and privately with Cuban President Raúl Castro, the Cuban
    people, and during your meetings with the press and Cuban civil society.
    We must stress how important it is that you meet with journalists and
    members of civil society to hear first hand how their rights are being

    Cuba represents the Western Hemisphere’s lowest position on Reporters
    Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 169th out of
    180 countries. The Cuban government maintains a complete monopoly on
    information and will not tolerate any independent voices, ensuring that
    there is no free media. It is almost impossible to broadcast and publish
    information without authorization from the government. Media sources
    that have not received official recognition are deemed illegal and are
    censored. Foreign journalists are also subject to Cuba’s censorship
    practices and restrictions, receiving accreditation only selectively.
    Furthermore, when foreign journalists cover stories that portray the
    current regime “too negatively,” they are deported.

    In addition to its tradition of censorship, Cuba has a long history of
    violence and harassment toward journalists. Many journalists working for
    independent media have received violent threats from the government.
    Roberto de Jesus Guerra, editor of independent news agency and free
    speech NGO Hablemos Press, was physically attacked by the Internal
    Security Department in June 2014. Another correspondent from the same
    publication was run down by a car that same month. In July 2015, many
    activists and journalists were arrested at a protest organized by the
    “Ladies in White” opposition movement, but were never charged. Arrests,
    confiscation of equipment, and short detentions continue to occur on a
    regular basis for journalists covering this opposition movement and
    other events.

    While the number of journalists imprisoned in Cuba has dwindled since
    2010, the independent blogger from the agency Yayabo Press Yoeni de
    Jesús Guerra García who was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014
    on charges of illegally slaughtering cattle, remains behind bars. He
    claimed that the charges against him were fabricated due to his
    reporting. Yoeni has repeatedly been the victim of violence and possible
    torture by prison staff. RSF advocated for his release as part of the
    amnesty preceding Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba last September, yet Yoeni
    still languishes in prison.

    Even after the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations last summer,
    the climate for free media still needs to improve. So far in 2016, the
    Cuban government has arrested three journalists, detained one, and
    banned distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    Authorities also found journalist and bookseller Ángel Herrera Oviedo
    murdered last month.

    Additionally, Cuba is among the worst nations in the world for Internet
    Access. Civilian use of the Internet has only been legal since June
    2013, and even then it is regulated by the state. According to the
    United Nations Broadband Commission, less than five percent of
    households in Cuba have Internet access, which ranks 115th out of 133
    countries. American aid worker Alan Gross, who you worked to free in
    2014, spent five years in a Cuban prison for working on a project to
    help provide Cuban citizens better internet access.

    In post-embargo Cuba, barriers to press freedom must be broken. Arrests
    of independent journalists, confiscation of material, and short
    detentions happen daily or weekly. The United States has the opportunity
    and the responsibility to facilitate a change through diplomacy. Now is
    the time to urge the government to allow independent media to operate
    without fear of violence or arrest. Now is the time to make sure all of
    Cuba’s many voices are heard.

    I thank you in advance, Mr. President, for the attention you give to
    this letter.


    Christophe Deloire Secretary-General, Reporters Without Borders

    Source: Letter to Obama: Make freedom of the press and access to
    information priorities in Cuba – Reporters Without Borders –,48922.html