Saturday, July 9, 2011

Committee to Protect Journalists report on Cuba

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released a special report called After the Black Spring, Cuba's New Repression by Karen Phillips. The title refers to the recent release of the last of 29 journalists who were jailed in 2003.

The CPJ examined government activities in March and April 2011, two months with sensitive political milestones, and found that critical journalists were targeted in more than 50 instances of repression -- arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, surveillance, and social sanctions. The government strategy seems to have shifted from long jail sentences to frequent, low-profile harassment.

Much of the focus is on bloggers and Twitter users. According to the CPJ, there are about 40 critical bloggers and "the struggle for free expression is being waged almost exclusively in digital media." They go on to state that "the government proudly announced in February that it had enlisted roughly 1,000 bloggers to denounce critical journalists," but did not offer a reference to that announcement.

They predict that the ALBA undersea cable will disadvantage the critical bloggers who have to scramble for Internet access illegally, visibly at embassies and Internet cafes or at expensive hotels. Journalists outside of Havana, with few hotels and no embassies, are at an even greater disadvantage. The cable will improve the already free access enjoyed by the official government bloggers.

The report concludes with lists of specific recommendations for the Cuban government, international community, U.N. Human Rights Council, European Union, Organization of American States, technology and blogging community and U.S. government.

The CPJ states that they have reports of 50 sanctions during a two month period and presents a number of annecdotes to support the claim. It would be interesting to conduct a survey of the independent Cuban bloggers to ascertain the frequency and types of harassment they have experienced.

Finally, this report may seem one-sided to some who feel that Cuba has no choice but to engage in such practices because of US attempts to influence Cuban public opinion, so called "cyberwar." There is no doubt that many reports and committees on Cuba are blindly one-sided, seeing the situation in stark black/white terms. But, this report is lent credibility by the fact that the CPJ is not a Cuban interest group -- they are interested in protecting journalists globally. They are an equal opportunity critic of repression wherever they encounter it.