In a series of interviews with relatives of the jailed writers and editors, CPJ has found that several journalists who were ill before being jailed have seen their health worsen in prison, while others have contracted new illnesses behind bars. Most of the jailed journalists are held far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Víctor Rolando Arroyo, Fabio Prieto Llorente, and Iván Hernández Carrillo are among those who are held in prisons hundreds of miles from their homes.
Journalist Pedro Argüelles Morán, who is jailed in Nieves Morejón Prison in central Sancti Spíritus Province, has developed several ailments while in prison, including pulmonary emphysema, said his wife, Yolanda Vera Nerey. He has cataracts in both eyes and is now virtually blind. In late June, he was taken to the prison infirmary after complaining of digestive problems. Vera Nerey said he also suffers from inflammation in his knees and legs, and a doctor has told him he has arthritis.
Journalist Pablo Pacheco Ávila suffers from high blood pressure, stomach problems, severe headache, and inflammation in both knees, according to his wife, Oleivys García Echemendía. In April, he was taken to a hospital to be treated for digestive problems. In early June, he was moved back to the Morón Prison in central Ciego de Ávila Province. While at the hospital, he underwent physical therapy for his knee problems, which had worsened to the point that he could barely walk, García Echemendía said.
Another journalist, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, suffers from heart disease and high blood pressure, among other illness, according to his wife, Ileana Danger Hardy. After being hospitalized in March and May to receive treatment for his high blood pressure, he was taken to Kilo 8 Prison in early June, she said. Danger Hardy said that at several times during his imprisonment, Herrera Acosta wounded himself to protest prison conditions and mistreatment.
Journalist Omar Ruiz Hernández has been diagnosed in prison with severe high blood pressure and a dilated aorta, according to his wife, Bárbara Rojo Arias. In May 2005, he was taken to a very small and poorly ventilated cell in Canaleta Prison after he refused to stand at attention when a prison officer walked past him, Rojo Arias told CPJ. During his three days there, in intense heat, his blood pressure increased. Rojo Arias said that her husband's diet was very poor and he relied on the food she brings him in her visits to prison.
Journalist José Luis García Paneque has been diagnosed in prison with an intestinal illness, according to his wife, Yamilé Llanes. Since December 2004, he has been at the Combinado del Este prison hospital in Havana. Llanes told CPJ that her husband's weight has plummeted from 86 kilograms (189 pounds) before his imprisonment to his current weight of 50 kilograms (120 pounds). She also said that his blood pressure was very low and he was still having bouts of diarrhea. He was being treated with vitamins, folic acid, and a nutritional supplement. However, Llanes said, he hasn't been getting a proper diet and she has had to bring him food every two weeks.
Journalist Ricardo González Alfonso remains at the Combinado del Este prison hospital, his wife, Álida Viso Bello, told CPJ. He developed a bacterial infection after undergoing gallbladder surgery last January. Although he began taking antibiotics, the infection didn't disappear, she said.
Journalist Alfredo Pulido López suffers chronic bronchitis, severe neck pain, hemorrhoids, and high blood pressure, according to his wife, Rebeca Rodríguez Souto. Although he has been treated for his medical conditions, his health has deteriorated, Rodríguez Souto said. She said that when she saw him during a prison visit in April 25, he looked pale and was very thin.
"The deteriorating health of these journalists provides a stark reminder of this appalling situation. The Cuban government is responsible for this deplorable, ongoing violation of human rights, and it should not let another day pass without ensuring the proper care of these prisoners," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "Better yet, the Cuban government should immediately release these 23 journalists, along with the many prisoners of conscience who were swept up in the government's crackdown on dissent."
The 23 still in prison were among 29 journalists jailed in March 2003, when the Cuban government arrested them as the world's attention was focused on the war in Iraq. They were convicted in perfunctory, closed-door trials on charges of working against the interests of the state—charges that were based merely on their reporting and commentary.
Cuba is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. In March, 107 prominent Latin American journalists and writers joined CPJ in a letter to President Fidel Castro Ruz, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all imprisoned Cuban journalists.
Read the letter and get more information about Cuba's crackdown on the independent press.
Take look inside Cuba's prisons. See CPJ's interview with the former jailed editor Jorge Olivera Castillo.