Five Years After ‘Black Spring,’ Pen Calls for Release of Writers
International PEN applauds Cuba’s February 28 signature of two key international human-rights conventions, which explicitly guarantee the right to freedom of expression, health, and freedom from torture and ill treatment. PEN calls on the Cuban authorities to honor these commitments by immediately and unconditionally releasing the 28 writers, journalists, and librarians imprisoned in violation of these rights. Twenty-one were arrested during Cuba’s 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents and have been held for five years this month. PEN also urges the government to ratify the treaties without reservations and to introduce all legislative and judicial reforms necessary for implementation.
On February 28, 2008, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) at the United Nations, making good his promise of December 2007. The two conventions, which expand on and codify the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are legally binding and commit the country to respect and promote a full spectrum of rights. These include the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the freedom to earn a living by the profession of one’s choosing; the right to health; and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment.
The signature of these conventions marks a significant change in Cuba’s attitude to the UN. For years, the country had refused to sign the treaties and to allow a visit by the now-defunct Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cuba. The development follows Fidel Castro’s resignation from office and the surprise release of two journalists and a librarian serving lengthy prison sentences in February 2008. On February 16, journalists Alejandro González Raga and José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and librarian Omar Pernet Hernández were released from prison and flown to Spain with their families. The three men had been arrested and sentenced as part of a crackdown on alleged dissidents that began on March 18, 2003, together with a number of other writers, journalists, and librarians who were part of the so-called "Group of 75."
Despite these developments, 28 writers, journalists, and librarians remain imprisoned in Cuba in flagrant violation of their right to freedom of expression and other rights guaranteed by the two treaties. Twenty-one have been imprisoned since the March 2003 crackdown; the other seven were detained subsequently. All are serving lengthy prison sentences—up to 27 years in some cases—on anti-state or "social dangerousess" charges. The majority are suffering from health problems caused or exacerbated by the harsh conditions and treatment they are exposed to in prison. Despite their deteriorating health, access to adequate medical treatment is often limited.
Write A Letter
- welcoming Cuba’s signature of the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 1966 UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
- calling on the country to demonstrate its commitment to these treaties by immediately releasing the 28 journalists, writers, and librarians imprisoned in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the ICCPR, and other rights contained in the ICCPR and ICESCR, such as the right to earn a living by the profession of one’s choosing freedom, the right to health, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment;
- urging the authorities to ratify both the ICCPR and the ICESCR without reservations, and to introduce the necessary legislative and judicial reforms to guarantee freedom of expression and all other rights contained in the treaties.
Send Your Letter To
Head of State and Government
Raúl Castro Ruiz, Presidente
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333085 (c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs); (212) 779-1697 (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/ Your Excellency
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sr. Felipe Pérez Roque, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Calzada No. 360, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333 085
Salutation: Señor Ministro/Dear Minister
Please send also appeals to diplomatic representatives of Cuba in your country.
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after April 13, 2008.