Amnesty condenms 'climate of fear' among journalists in Cuba
The communist government in Havana has created a "climate of fear" among Cuban dissidents and journalists through its "repressive" legal system, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
"The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak out against the government," said Kerrie Howard, deputy Americas director at Amnesty International.
"There is an urgent need for reform to make all human rights a reality for all Cubans."
Amnesty, which is banned from Cuba since 1990, released a report in Madrid charging that the legal system in the island is being used to restrict information to the media and arrest hundreds of government critics.
"Cuba's repressive legal system has created a climate of fear among journalists, dissidents and activists, putting them at risk of arbitrary arrest and harassment by the authorities," Amnesty said in a statement released along with the report.
In particular, it mentioned one Cuban independent journalist, Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez, the director of the Candonga online newspaper, who has "arbitrarily arrested, interrogated and intimidated by the authorities" last year, before being released without charge.
"We were hoping that the government understood that what we were doing was exercising a right, we didn't hurt anyone," Hernandez was quoted as saying in the statement.
"We tried very hard to give information about what was happening in the country. They (the authorities) considered this to be dangerous."
Although Cuban authorities deny the existence of political prisoners, Amnesty said it knows of at least 53 prisoners of conscience who are still incarcerated "for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly."
It said the Cuban government of President Raul Castro "has sought to justify its failure to protect human rights by pointing to the negative effects of the embargo imposed by the US.
"It is clear that the US embargo has had a negative impact on the country but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people," said Howard.
The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- says there are some 200 political prisoners on the island.
Cuban authorities consider them a threat to national security and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" on Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government.
In early June they started moving some political prisoners closer to their families after talks with church representatives, according to dissident and family sources.
© 2010 AFP