Cuba’s record on civil and political rights falls well below accepted international standards. People are denied freedom of express& and assembly; there is no independent judiciary and no free press. Opposition parties are prohibited and, over forty years after the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro remains head of state and leader of the Communist party.
In April 2003, seventy-five Cuban dissidents were sentenced to a combined total of over 1,450 years in jail under draconian laws, accused of being financed and directed by the US Interests Section in Havana.
Adolfo Fernindez Sainz, fifty-six, is a translator, independent journalist and advocate for democracy in Cuba. He has worked as a correspondent for, the international news agencies Patria and Prima-News. Sainz was one of the seventy-five dissidents arrested during Fidel Castro’s biggest crackdown for over a decade on opponents and human rights activists. Many believe Castro orchestrated the crackdown to coincide with the American invasion of Iraq, believing that, with the world’s attention elsewhere, his internal repression would escape outside scrutiny.
Sainz wai convicted under Cuba’s infamous Law No. 88, which prohibits the passing of information to foreign organisations or media. It is frequently used as a means for sending writers and journalists to prison and contravenes Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Fbghts. Among dissidents, it is known as Cuba’s ‘gagging’ law. Sainz is currently serving a fifteen-year jail sentence in Holguin, in the eastern part of the main island, 777km from his home and family in Havana.
Over the years Sainz has been continually harassed and has suffered previous detentions and threats because of his outsvokehness. but this latest sentence is the state’s most serious attempt to silence him.
On 19th March 2003, eight security agents arrived at Sainz’s home with a search warrant. They confiscated his publications and various personal possessions including his typewriter and laptop computer. The search of his tiny five-room apartment lasted eight hours. Sainz was then arrested and held for five weeks at the state security headquarters in Havana in a cell with three men accused of drug trafficking. Sainz was allowed only one family visit a week and this was limited to ten minutes.
Sainz’s trial was conducted in violation of internationally accepted judicial standards. There was insufficient time for the accused to put together a cogent defence, and the court hearing, lasting six hours, took place on 3 April 2003 behind closed doors. No foreign press or diplomats were admitted to the courtrooms, although many had sought formal permission. Sainz was tried together with fellow writer and prominent economist Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello under Article 91 of the Penal code, intended to punish those who have acted against ‘the independence of the territorial integrity of the Cuban State’. for which the maximum penalty is death, and for offences under Law No. 88 relating to ‘the protection of Cuban National Independence and Economy’. Although Sainz appealed, two weeks later his sentence was upheld.
Prison conditions in Cuba are harsh. Until November 2003 Sainz was kept in an isolated cell 1.5m by 3m wide without water or electricity and with a hole in the floor serving as a lavatory. He is currently detained in a maximum-security prison. He sleeps without a mattress in a cell infested with mosquitoes, cockroaches and rats. He is allowed to leave his cell twice a day to bathe and to spend an hour outside. However, the period he is offered for exercise is often the hottest time of the day, forcing him to remain inside. The amount of food that Sainz’s family is allowed to bring him to supplement the poor prison diet is limited to 13kg. As it is, family visits are permitted only once every three months, for just two hours.
After four hunger strikes – protesting the lack of contact with his family, prison conditions and the treatment of fellow detainees – Sainz is in Door health. He was also badly beaten and reportedly knocked unconscious when he tried to prevent inmates attacking another political prisoner.
But, in spite of his appalling hardship, Sainz rehses to be silenced. In his own words (taken from an article he managed to smuggle out of his prison cell in Cuba): ‘All those who stand for freedom and democracy must condemn the Castro regime in all its forms, a regime that has imprisoned all those who have opposed it, including human rights activists and journalists. Democratic governments and non-governmental Organisations, all those who in different times were once in”favour, must now help those people who work towards securing a peaceful move to democracy in Cuba. If these pages ever get into the public domain, it will be because-the author has managed to get round his prison officers and someone else has succeeded in breaking Cuban law in order that they can be published abroad.’ (Extract from an article published in the New Statesman 12 January 2004, translated by Monique Corless.)
International PEN’S Writers in Prison Committee currently monitors thirty-four cases of writers and journalists imprisoned in Cuba. This accounts for 28 per cent of the worldwide total reported by PEN.
Readers can send appeals urging the Cuban authorities to release Adolfo Fernindez Sainz and all his fellow writers sentenced in the 2003 clampdown to:
His Excellency Fidel Castro Ruz, President of Cuba
C/O Cuban Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
Fax: 00 1 212 779 1697