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Columbia Missourian

For jailing journalists, Cuba is the little island that can

By Tom Warhover
May 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández has been convicted on charges of disrespect. Twice.


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The first time, in 2005, he served a one-year sentence. On May 12 the director of the independent news agency Habana Press received another three years. He was not allowed a lawyer at the trial. His family couldn’t witness the conviction.

Last month, I wrote to you about Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist who was jailed by the Iranian government and convicted, in secret, of espionage. International outrage ensued. She was eventually released and returned home to the United States.

One reader accused me of impersonating a lemming, blindly following a popular cause.

So I bring you news of Du Bouchet Hernández. And of Cuba.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 22 journalists are in prison in this island state of 11.5 million. (Reporters Without Borders counts 24 journalists.) There is one country with more jailed journalists: China, home to 1.3 billion people, has 28 behind bars.

The clue to Du Bouchet Hernández’s crimes lies in the description of his news outfit. “Independent” just isn’t allowed. One of my students found the following in the Cuban constitution:

 “Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of a socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, movies and other organs of the mass media are the state or social property and can never be private property.”

Anything considered “enemy propaganda” is illegal. Anything "disruptive" to the social order is illegal.

Don’t drop your jaw yet. There’s more.

The constitution of Cuba allows for “pre-criminal dangerousness.” You don’t have to do anything to be guilty; you can simply be someone the government doesn’t like.

And the government of Raul Castro doesn’t like Du Bouchet Hernández.

This story won’t make the front pages of newspapers or the 24-hour news talk shows. Saberi was from Fargo, N.D., and held dual citizenship. Du Bouchet Hernández is a Cuban held by his government.

But the effort to silence speech is one we all have a stake in, whether it’s in the nation called Cuba or in Cuba, Mo.

— Tom