PEN and CPJ protest U.S. decision to revoke Cuban journalist’s visa
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell,
We are writing to express our shock and extreme concern over reports that the U.S. State Department recently revoked Cuban independent journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón’s refugee visa, just over one month before he was scheduled to travel to the United States.
According to information we received from colleagues in contact with Mr. Arévalo Padrón, the independent journalist met with representatives at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in April of this year and was granted political asylum. He then applied for an exit permit from the Cuban government-a rigorous and costly process that generally strips applicants of the ability to engage in virtually any legal activity on the island, including employment. U.S. Interests Section officials advised Mr. Arévalo Padrón that he would be leaving the country on August 25th. Then, this past Wednesday, July 14 he received a telegram from the U.S. diplomatic mission plainly informing him that his visa had been revoked “without a right of appeal” and that his flight had been cancelled.
As you must know, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón is the founder of Linea Sur Press, an independent news agency based in Cienfuegos. He created the agency with the goal of making the Cuban public aware of the ways in which their government was violating their fundamental rights. As a result of his journalistic work, he was arrested by State Security Agents on August 14, 1997 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. Both PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) vigorously protested the sentence, condemning it as a violation of Mr. Arévalo Padrón’s universally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. We were not alone in protesting Mr. Arévalo Padrón’s prison sentence: the U.S. State Department cited his case in a 2000 Country Report on Human Rights Practices when detailing the detentions, threats, and harassment suffered by independent journalists in Cuba. Human rights and press freedom organizations such as the Inter American Press Association, the World Association of Newspapers, Reporters without Borders, and Amnesty International uniformly condemned the Cuban government for imprisoning Mr. Arévalo Padrón. In addition, Mr. Arévalo Padrón was awarded one of two 2003 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. Established in 1987, these awards are given once a year to literary figures who have faced persecution for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Mr. Arévalo Padrón’s sentence was due to expire on November 15, 2003. On November 13, 2003, he was released and handed his official release certificate without explanation. Shortly after, he spoke with Sauro González Rodríguez, CPJ’s Americas Research Associate, by phone and described physical and psychological torture at the hands of prison authorities. His descriptions are entirely consistent with well-documented accounts of mistreatment of dissidents and independent journalists in Cuban prisons. Moreover, as the March 2003 crackdown illustrates, dissidents who have endured this treatment and attempt to resume their professional work remain extremely vulnerable to re-arrest. In short, it is clear to us that Bernardo Arévalo Padrón has a well-founded fear of persecution and that he could suffer severe consequences if he remains in Cuba. We are further concerned that the limbo in which he now finds himself as a result of applying for and receiving permission to emigrate to the United States may have irrevocably compromised his ability to live and work in Cuba.
We therefore respectfully request that your offices conduct a thorough review of the decision to revoke Bernardo Arévalo Padrón’s refugee visa to the United States and take action to renew his visa immediately.
Executive Director, PEN AMERICAN CENTER
Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists