CubaBrief: World Press Freedom Day in Cuba, one of the ten worse countries in the world for freedom of the press, in the midst of the Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara affair

“Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948

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May 3rd, since December 1993 has been recognized by the international community as World Press Freedom Day.  It is observed on the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of press freedom principles drafted by African Journalists and passed on May 3, 1992 at a UNESCO seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press,” held in Windhoek, Namibia.

The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2021 is “Information as a Public Good.” This is a timely theme considering the challenges confronting the free press in the free world due to technological changes, and a new media environment.

CNN NEWS18 (formerly known as CNN IBN)is a partnership between TV18, one of India’s leading television broadcast networks and CNN International, outlined the topics in the theme presented this year.

The three topics to be highlighted at this year’s World Press Freedom Day 2021 Global Conference, as per UNESCO are:

  • Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;

  • Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies;

  • Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good

Today, this CubaBrief will focus on press freedoms in Cuba, or better put their systematic absence.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released the 2021 edition of their World Press Freedom Index. revealing that Cuba in 2021 out of 180 countries remained 171st in press freedom, unchanged from that position in 2020 when the island nation edged out Saudi Arabia to become ninth of the 10 worst ranked countries in the index. Below is the 2021 entry by RSF on Cuba.

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Constant ordeal for independent media

Cuba has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator. Miguel Díaz-Canel’s election as president in April 2018, after 59 years of authoritarian socialist rule under Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl, has made no difference. The regime maintains an almost total monopoly of news and information and uses every means possible to obstruct independent media. Journalists who don’t toe the official line are subjected to arbitrary arrest, the threat of imprisonment, persecution and harassment, illegal home searches, and confiscation and destruction of journalistic material. Independent bloggers and journalists are watched by state security agents, who try to restrict their freedom of movement, and often take them in for questioning and delete information on their devices. The authorities also control the coverage by foreign reporters by granting accreditation selectively and expelling those regarded as too “negative” about the government. The gradual improvement in Internet access nonetheless constitutes one of the few grounds for hope for the future of press freedom in Cuba.

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It is within this existing reality that the plight of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a great challenge because independent media on the island is tightly muzzled, and subject to deportation, in terms of international media outlets, or prison for brave independent journalists that send their reports abroad, because mass media outlets on the island are a monopoly controlled by the Cuban Communist Party.

BBC News has provided a complete report on the events this past weekend, but fails to provide context to why Luis Manuel’s allies fear for his safety. At 5:00am on Sunday, May 2nd state security agents forced their way into his home. Officials are giving contradictory statements to attempt to discredit the dissident. Activists and family members are demanding proof of life.

The Center for a Free Cuba issued a press release today providing historical context to the danger Luis Manuel faces at the Calixto Garcia hospital in Cuba.

“In the past, the Calixto García Hospital and other Cuban hospitals have been the scene of the death of other opponents under the control of the agents of the Ministry of the Interior, as was the case of the leader of the Ladies in White Laura Pollán Toledo in October 2011. The agents of the political police isolate the person, do not allow the entry of their relatives or friends, and the treatment they apply or the one they stop applying to lead them to death is unknown. There are numerous cases of unexplained deaths in hospitals on the Island under the custody of State Security. Another case was that of the blind opponent Sergio Díaz Larrastegui in April 2012,” explained Janisset Rivero, who for years has documented these cases and is a collaborator of the Center for a Free Cuba.

In both cases, that of Pollán and that of Díaz Larrastegui, whose homes were headquarters in Havana of important human rights organizations, their deaths meant the closure of the headquarters and a severe blow to the civic movement.

“In the case of Otero Alcántara, his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, an organization that in recent months has raised its voice in favor of freedom of expression on the Island, achieving numerous spontaneous and organized demonstrations in favor of their demands. The regime that has brought this activist to the brink of death cannot be trusted to now want to save him. We must demand that his family or friends can see him and verify his situation,” said John Suárez, Executive Director of the CFC.

BBC News, May 3, 2021

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara: Cuban dissident’s health stokes allies’ fears

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, seen here in April, is the leader of the San Isidro Movement (SIM)

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, seen here in April, is the leader of the San Isidro Movement (SIM)

A leading Cuban dissident was forcibly taken to hospital by security forces after seven days on hunger strike, activists say, raising concerns over his health.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara began his protest after police stormed his home in the capital Havana last month, seizing or destroying some of his art.

The hospital said he was in a stable condition.

But relatives and friends say they have not been able to communicate with him.

Mr Otero Alcántara, 33, is the leader of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), a group of artists, journalists and intellectuals who campaign for freedom of speech and democracy in the communist country.

The authorities allege the group is funded by Washington and has been used to subvert the state, claims the movement denies. But many members say they have been constantly targeted by the security forces, including with arbitrary detentions.

In effect, Mr Otero Alcántara was put under house arrest after the raid on his home in April, activists said. He was repeatedly detained while trying to leave his home, which was surrounded by police, and his communications were cut off.

He then started a hunger and thirst strike, demanding a return of his art, compensation, freedom of expression and an end to police harassment. Since then, no-one has been allowed in or out of his home by police.

On Sunday, a report by the Havana public health department said the artist had been “referred” to a local hospital for “self-imposed food deprivation”, and arrived by ambulance, “walking without difficulty”.

According to the health department, the hospital found no sign of malnutrition or other chemical imbalances, but he was admitted nonetheless. He was in stable condition, it added, and being attended to by physicians.

Group asks: How is it possible?

Later, SIM members said state security had forced Mr Otero Alcántara from his home at dawn. They said the authorities’ report was “confusing and contradictory” and demanded “clear evidence” of his well-being.

“How is it possible he has no signs of malnutrition or dehydration after being on a hunger and thirst strike for more than seven days?” the group asked in a post on Twitter.

In the last few days, the messaged added, Mr Otero Alcántara “presented strong abdominal pains and severe muscle weakness that prevented him from moving easily, among other signs of dehydration”.

Founded in 2018, the San Isidro Movement has often stirred controversy domestically by mixing art with political activism but it has gained international attention recently.

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the US was “extremely concerned about the welfare” of the activist, and urged the Cuban government “to take immediate steps to protect his life and health.”

The EU delegation to Cuba said it had followed Mr Otero Alcántara’s hunger strike with “concern”, saying: “We have shared this concern with our Cuban friends and now we hope that he will soon recover his health and can enjoy his rights as a citizen and as an artist.”

Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas demanded information on his whereabouts and that he be allowed access to his family.

Last November, Mr Otero Alcántara and other SIM members staged a hunger strike to protest against the arrest of dissident rapper Dennis Solís. Police ended the strike, which led to a rare protest by about 300 people in front of the culture ministry against censorship and in favour of freedom of expression.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-56947591

News18, May 3, 2021

World Press Freedom Day 2021: History, Significance and Theme

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Hailed as the fourth pillar of democracy, the press – its reporters, editors and photographers – have always risked their reputations and lives for the truth behind events. Such tasks require a degree of freedom which is guaranteed by the constitutions of democratic nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To celebrate the forthcoming World Press Freedom Day on May 3, this year, we take a look at its origin, meaning and importance below.

History

It was in the year 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as the World Press Freedom Day. This declaration came after a recommendation made in 1991 at the twenty-sixth General Conference session of UNESCO. The declaration also came as a result of 1991 Windhoek Declaration; a statement which was produced by African journalists about press freedom, presented at a seminar held by UNESCO, which concluded on May 3.

Significance

The day is celebrated to ensure the protection and safety of the press in the face of attacks against its independence, to discuss journalistic ethics and to celebrate journalists who gave their lives in the pursuit of truth. There are ten nations – China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Eritrea, Djibouti, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Cuba – where press freedom is severely limited. World Press Day remind us that many publications and their editors and reporters are often prevented from doing their jobs, censored and banned. Many get imprisoned or killed even.

Theme

The theme for World Press Day 2021 is “Information as a Public Good.” It is especially significant for the press, which deals with information on a global scale, to effectively use and disseminate it to the world citizenry while empowering journalists.

The three topics to be highlighted at this year’s World Press Freedom Day 2021 Global Conference, as per UNESCO are:

  • Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;

  • Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies;

  • Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good

CNN NEWS18 (formerly known as CNN IBN)is a partnership between TV18, one of India’s leading television broadcast networks and CNN International,

https://www.news18.com/news/lifestyle/world-press-freedom-day-2021-history-significance-and-theme-3701426.html

Center for a Free Cuba, May 3, 2021

Life of opposition activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is in danger in the hands of State Security in Cuba

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Center for a Free Cuba (CFC). The life of opposition activist and independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is in imminent danger in Cuba. State Security agents took him from his home on Sunday, May 2 and transferred him to the Calixto García Hospital located in the Cuban capital according to official sources, however, his real condition and location have not been confirmed by his family or close friends. This secretive situation has triggered the suspicion of human rights organizations and their defenders outside the Island, as well as within the country.

“In the past, the Calixto García Hospital and other Cuban hospitals have been the scene of the death of other opponents under the control of the agents of the Ministry of the Interior, as was the case of the leader of the Ladies in White Laura Pollán Toledo in October 2011. The agents of the political police isolate the person, do not allow the entry of their relatives or friends, and the treatment they apply or the one they stop applying to lead them to death is unknown. There are numerous cases of unexplained deaths in hospitals on the Island under the custody of State Security. Another case was that of the blind opponent Sergio Díaz Larrastegui in April 2012,” explained Janisset Rivero, who for years has documented these cases and is a collaborator of the Center for a Free Cuba.

In both cases, that of Pollán and that of Díaz Larrastegui, whose homes were headquarters in Havana of important human rights organizations, their deaths meant the closure of the headquarters and a severe blow to the civic movement.

“In the case of Otero Alcántara, his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, an organization that in recent months has raised its voice in favor of freedom of expression on the Island, achieving numerous spontaneous and organized demonstrations in favor of their demands. The regime that has brought this activist to the brink of death cannot be trusted to now want to save him. We must demand that his family or friends can see him and verify his situation,” said John Suárez, Executive Director of the CFC.

Many activists such as Anamely Ramos have demanded from the Island that Otero Alcántara’s life certificate be given, fearing that at this moment he is under the control of repressive organs and in total isolation. The answer has been silence.

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2021/5/3/life-of-opposition-activist-luis-manuel-otero-alcntara-is-in-danger-in-the-hands-of-state-security-in-havana