Cuba: state agents assault journalist,  break his nose; HRF condemns attack

Human Rights Foundation
Roberto de Jesús Guerra. Foto: cortesy of the author.
 
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- NEW YORK. —The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the brutal assault of Cuban journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez by government agents. The attack on the founder and director of the Centro de Información Hablemos Press (CIHPRESS) took place last Wednesday, June 11, in Havana, while Guerra was on his way to the embassy of the Czech Republic to use the internet. An unknown man intercepted and attacked Guerra without warning, punching and kicking him in his head and face, and leaving him with a broken nose, as well as cuts, scrapes, and bruises all over his body. The attack continued as Guerra was grabbed violently by the neck and thrown to the ground. The attacker used an unidentified sharp object to inflict wounds on the journalist’s head and stomach.

Several minutes into the assault, four men on two motorcycles arrived at the scene. One of the men approached the aggressor and told him: “That’s enough, don’t hit him anymore.” Guerra’s attacker then warned him: “This is so that you can see what we do to members of the opposition.” The journalist recognized one of the four men as someone who, just a few days earlier, had taken part in an “act of repudiation,” an attack on citizens organized by the Cuban government. During these acts, which are periodically organized by government agents, mobs surround the house of a member of the opposition or a dissident and deface their homes with offensive graffiti, throw objects, and threaten them using abusive language.

“Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere where it can be said with certainty that freedom of expression is non-existent. Information can only be obtained through state-owned media and the few lucky Cubans who can access the internet, which is tightly restricted by the regime, get their news through a ‘Wikipedia’ created by the dictatorship,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Instead of being recognized for their fundamental role in informing civil society, any individual in Cuba who dares to report on the reality of life on the island is dismissed as a ‘worm,’ a ‘mercenary,’ and a ‘counterrevolutionary.’ For HRF and for the friends of human rights around the world who are familiar with the work of Hablemos Press, Roberto Guerra is not a worm, but a hero,” said Halvorssen.

In the past week, several journalists and CIHPRESS correspondents have been persecuted and harassed by the Cuban government. On June 8, Magaly Norvis Otero, a correspondent for CIHPRESS and the wife of Guerra, was summoned by police in Havana and told to “change the tone of their articles” or “urgent measures were going to be taken as a consequence of her writing.” Also on June 8, CIHPRESS correspondent Mario Hechavarría Driggs was detained by agents of the National Police and the Department of State Security, who warned him that if he “continued [writing], other measures would be taken.” On June 9, Yeaer Farres Delgado, another correspondent for CIHPRESS, was detained and threatened while attempting to take pictures of the Capitol Building in Havana.

Guerra founded CIHPRESS in 2009, to fill the information void in Cuba left by the imprisonment of 75 independent journalists during the infamous “Black Spring” government crackdown. Last year, Guerra traveled outside of Cuba for the first time to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum, HRF’s international human rights conference held each year in Norway. During his presentation, Guerra told of the harassment and systematic repression that journalists in Cuba face every day.

“Hablemos Press plays the same historic role in Cuba that the Buenos Aires Heraldplayed in Argentina in the 1970s. Both are examples of extraordinary men and women who, despite living under fear and subject to threats and intimidation, decided to take a stand against dictatorship,” said Halvorssen. “Public interest issues—such as the deplorable conditions at hospitals, the lack of basic medicines like aspirin, widespread malnutrition and evictions, and cholera epidemics—are state secrets in a totalitarian place like Cuba, where independent media outlets are illegal. Government secrecy in democracies is difficult to maintain under the bright lights of thousands of media outlets operating legally and openly, but, under a dictatorship, those individuals who try to shed even a small ray of light on government abuses must be willing to pay the highest of prices. This is why those of us who enjoy the freedoms of a democratic nation cannot abandon these critical voices,” added Halvorssen.

Guerra was attacked while he was en route to the Czech Embassy in Havana. While in office, former Czech president Václav Havel established the policy that the doors of all Czech embassies in totalitarian countries would always be open to dissidents and members of the opposition. The embassies allow journalists, as well as many other pro-democracy and human rights advocates, to use its computers and access the internet. This policy was championed by Havel to counter the diplomatic indifference he had himself suffered under the dictatorship in Czechoslovakia. Havel served as HRF’s chairman until his death in 2011.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

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