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For Immediate Release
June 20, 1996

Contact:
William A. Orme, Jr.
Phone: (212) 465-8538

Cuban Officials Interrogate and Deport CPJ Staff Expert

NEW YORK--Cuban Interior Ministry officials detained, interrogated, and deported from Cuba today a visiting staff expert from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), accusing the U.S.-based press freedom organization of “fomenting rebellion” through its support for Cuba’s independent journalists.

Suzanne Bilello, CPJ’s program coordinator for the Americas, was arrested in her hotel room in Havana at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday by two plainclothes Interior Ministry officials and a uniformed Immigration officer. She was brought for interrogation to Interior Ministry offices in the Miramar district, where she was questioned for three hours about her activities and contacts in Havana.

Cuban police interrogators seized all of Bilello’s notebooks, personal papers, and other private documents, along with rolls of exposed film and other possessions. At 2:00 a.m. she was informed that she was being “expelled” for her support of “fomenting rebellion.”

She was placed aboard a 7:00 a.m. flight to Cancun, Mexico, where she arrived this morning. At no time was she physically mistreated or threatened, Ms. Bilello reported.

“We strongly protest the unjustified seizure of Ms. Bilello’s personal papers and other belongings as an unconscionable invasion of privacy, and as a violation of press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director William A. Orme, Jr.

Bilello, a journalist with long experience in Latin America, had traveled to Cuba from Mexico on June 16 on a tourists’ visa obtained from the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City. During her four-day stay she met with reporters and editors of five newly established independent Cuban news agencies. The official harassment and arbitrary detention of independent journalists has prompted repeated CPJ protests in recent months. Founded by journalists who were formerly employed by Cuban state media outlets, the independent news agencies send reports about local economic, social, and political issues to clients abroad.

As a gesture of collegial support, Bilello provided the independent journalists with modest gifts from CPJ of pens, notebooks, and medicines that are scarce or prohibitively expensive in Cuba. The importation of the gifts had been approved by Cuban Customs officials. She also gave the independent news agencies small advance payments from private sources to help underwrite their news-gathering costs in the coming months. The Interior Ministry officials questioned Bilello extensively about these gifts and payments, alleging that they constituted support for “rebellion” and “counterrevolutionary activities.”

“As her Cuban interrogators acknowledged, Suzanne Bilello broke no Cuban laws,” said Orme. “Her visit was motivated by a desire to help and to meet personally many of the independent Cuban journalists whom CPJ has long supported.

“These police-state intimidation tactics typify the kind of harassment to which independent-minded local journalists are routinely subjected, but which few foreigners ever experience.”

CPJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1981 to monitor abuses of the press and to promote press freedom throughout the world.


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