Cuban Journalist Charged with Disrespecting Castros
by IWPR September 25, 2012
By Yaremis Flores
Press rights group highlights absurdity of arresting Calixto Ramón
Martínez Árias for reporting on matters of public interest.
An independent journalist in Cuba, Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias, is to
be charged with being disrespectful towards Raúl and Fidel Castro, the
country's current and former presidents.
Martínez Árias, a correspondent for the independent news agency Hablemos
Press, was detained on September 16. If convicted, he could face a
prison sentence of one to three years.
The authorities maintained silence on Martínez Árias's detention for
nearly 72 hours, until Captain Marisela of the Santiago de las Vegas
police department in Havana province announced that the detainee was to
be charged with "the crime of aggravated disrespect".
In Cuban law, the criminal offence of "disrespect" is a broad term
covering defamation or other insults towards government officials, and
carries more severe penalties when the head of state or another top
figure is involved.
The authorities have not yet said when and how they believe Martínez
Árias insulted the Castro brothers.
The journalist was detained at Havana's international airport while
investigating a story about a damaged shipment of medicines sent by the
World Health Organisation.
The law requires the police to allow communication with detained
persons, but in this case access was not only obstructed, but a lawyer
and editor were themselves temporarily detained when they made inquiries
about Martínez Árias.
Hablemos Press director Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez went to the
Santiago de las Vegas police station the day after Martínez Árias's
arrest to ask for information.
"The officer there told us that [Martínez Árias] had been transferred to
another station, without giving any more details," he said.
At one in the afternoon of September 19, Guerra Pérez returned to the
police station, accompanied by independent lawyer Veizant Boloy, and
they demanded to be informed of Martínez Árias's legal situation.
Instead of being allowed to communicate with him, the two were detained.
"We asked Captain Marisela if we could see [Martínez Árias] and give him
some toiletries. Then a State Security Department agent who called
himself Yuri appeared, accompanied by a police officer," Boloy said.
"They asked for our identification and took us to the cells."
Boloy and Guerra Pérez were held for seven hours, then released.
"Our detention and everything that happened at the station was
authorised by Major Arnaldo Espinosa, head of the Santiago de las Vegas
Station," Boloy said, "although it is State Security officers who are
really in charge."
Their detention did allow them to confirm that, contrary to what Guerra
Pérez had been told, Martínez Árias was being held at the same police
"When we went down to the cells we shouted Calixto's name. He answered
us, surprised. We saw wounds on his face caused by blows from officers,"
Guerra Peréz said.
He added, "On the Monday [September 17], they lied to us. Calixto was
always at that station."
Guerra Peréz reported later that on September 20, Martínez Árias was
treated for a swelling in his left eye at the National Hospital, and
then transferred to the prison known as "El Vivac" in western Havana.
Prosecutors have yet to confirm when the detainee will be able to engage
a lawyer. Only lawyers belonging to the National Organisation of
Collective Law Offices are allowed to defend citizens in court cases.
The Inter-American Press Association has condemned Martínez Árias's arrest.
"It is a contradiction that a journalist faces possible imprisonment for
reporting on matters of public interest, when these matters should
really be an alert [for the need] to fix the problem," Gustavo Mohme,
head of the association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and
Information, said on September 21.
Martínez Árias has been detained on numerous occasions while working as
a journalist, but this is the first time he has been charged with an
In an interview at the end of August, he said his mission as an
independent journalist was "to break down the wall of silence that the
government has imposed on this island, and to report human rights abuses".
Yaremis Flores is an independent lawyer and journalist in Cuba.