By Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez
Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a reporter for the Hablemos Press Information Centre, has been on hunger strike for close to a month now.
Martínez Arias was detained on September 16 near Cuba’s international airport in Havana while investigating allegations of a damaged shipment of medicines sent by the World Health Organisation.
The authorities charged him with insulting President Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel Castro, the first leader of post-revolutionary Cuba. (See Cuban Journalist Faces Charge of Insulting Castros.)
Martínez Arias, 42, began a hunger strike on November 10. At a meeting with his sister on November 30, he told her he planned to carry on, as a way of protesting against overcrowding in the jail, and also against having to wear prison uniform and being stripped of all of his belongings.
The authorities at the Combinado del Este Prison, where Martínez Arias is being held, are refusing to disclose information on his health.
A fellow inmate, who requested anonymity, said by phone that on December 7, State Security officers took Martínez Arias out of the punishment cell he was in and asked him to end his hunger strike.
The prisoner said Martínez Arias told him afterwards that the officers were “from Villa Marista” – State Security headquarters.
“They took him out to try to force him to end his hunger strike, [and show that] they won’t give in to pressure. But he made it clear that he would continue his strike because they had refused to offer him any kind of guarantees,” the inmate said. “When he returned to his cell, they denied him water in order to force him to end his strike.”
Another prisoner confirmed the incident, saying he saw two officers in green uniforms with State Security insignia taking Martínez Arias out of his cell on December 6.
He saw him the following morning, and Martínez Arias told him that “he was feeling weak, but wouldn’t give up his strike”.
Speaking on December 6, Martínez Arias’s lawyer said he had still not been given access to the journalist’s records, despite having requested them on two occasions.
In a statement issued on December 7, the Inter-American Press Association reiterated its demand for “the immediate release of the Cuban journalist… who has been imprisoned since September and has been on hunger strike for nearly a month in protest against the appalling conditions in which he is being held”.
The president of the association’s committee for press freedom, Claudio Paolillo, said, “The Cuban government has a tendency to ignore local and international appeals against their deplorable human rights abuses. We cannot be silent in the face of constant violations.”
The Hablemos Press Information Centre has set up a petition on the change.org website to win broad international solidarity for Martínez Arias’s case. It is asking President Castro and the official Union of Cuban Journalists to act to secure the journalist’s immediate release.
Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez is an independent journalist and founder of the Hablemos Press news agency in Cuba. This article was published at IWPR’s Latin America report.