New York, NY, April 10, 2007—PEN American Center today named Normando Hernández González, a Cuban writer and journalist who was arrested along with 74 other journalists and democracy and human rights activists in a March 2003 crackdown, as recipient of its 2007 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

The award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 30, 2007 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN Trustee Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the award. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 141 constituent PEN Centers around the world and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprising some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards includes Carroll Bogert, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Secretary of International PEN; Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute; and Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Normando Hernández González is a writer and independent journalist. He is the director of Camagüey College of Independent Journalists, a group of journalists who seek to serve as an alternative to the State-owned press in and around Camagüey.

On March 18, 2003, Hernández was arrested along with 74 other journalists and activists considered to be dissidents by the Cuban government. The youngest of those arrested in this notorious crackdown, Hernández, now 38, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment under Article 91 of the Cuban Criminal Code for reporting on the conditions of state-run services in Cuba and for criticizing the government’s management of issues such as tourism, agriculture, fishing, and cultural affairs. For several months following his imprisonment, Hernández was kept in solitary confinement and allowed only four hours of sunlight a week, no access to television or radio, and extremely restricted communication with his family. In August, after engaging in a hunger strike with seven other inmates in protest of the deplorable prison conditions, Hernández was transferred to Kilo 5½ prison in Pinar del Río, over 400 four hundred miles from his home and family.

In Pinar del Río, Hernández was denied access to the outside world in any form, and forced to share a small, filthy cell with insects, rodents, and prisoners considered dangerous or mentally unstable. He was badly beaten by the Prison Chief of Security and contracted tuberculosis before being moved to Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey.

Hernández suffers from tuberculosis and a chronic gastro-intestinal disorder, which have caused him to lose at least 35 pounds. In December 2006, he was rushed in critical condition to the Amalia Simoni Provincial Hospital in Camagüey after suffering from fainting spells. During his hospital stay, he was kept in a room without a bed, table or chair for an entire week. On December 27, State Security soldiers removed Hernández from the hospital and took him back to prison. Doctors claimed that the hospital was lacking in the resources needed to treat Hernández’s condition.

In announcing the award today in New York, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems praised Hernández’s exceptional courage and integrity. “When the March 2003 crackdown began, Normando Hernández González eluded arrest for 24 hours so he could celebrate his daughter’s first birthday, and then he turned himself in. Since then, he has endured abusive treatment in prison conditions that clearly violate international norms, to the extreme detriment of his health—the youngest of the 75 detained in the crackdown, he is in danger of dying from the conditions of his detention. Yet he has refused to renounce his commitment to expand freedom of expression and essential rights in Cuba, publishing critical and personal essays and protesting the treatment of other prisoners. Hernández embodies PEN’s highest ideals, and we are proud to honor him as this year’s recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.”

Noting that 59 of the 75 journalists and activists arrested in March 2003 remain in prison, Siems appealed to organizations around the world to join in pressing the Cuban government to release Hernández immediately and move quickly to release all who have been jailed in Cuba in violation of their universally guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. “Over the last four years, international pressure led to the release of Raúl Rivero, Marta Beatriz Roque, Manuel Vázquez Portal, and 13 more of the most prominent detainees. But 16 out of 75 is not a victory. Behind those released are dozens more who are serving unjust sentence in unconscionable conditions. They, too, must be freed.”   

This is the 21st year that the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards have honored international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. The awards are an extension of PEN’s year-round advocacy on behalf of the more than 1,020 writers and journalists who are currently threatened or in prison. Forty-two women and men have received the award since 1987; 30 of the 32 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honored were subsequently released.  

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105