Paris, 24 March 2004
The jailed Cuban journalist Raúl Rivero Castañeda was today awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for 2004 by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, on the recommendation of an international jury
“The Prize is a tribute to Raúl Rivero’s brave and longstanding commitment to independent reporting, the hallmark of professional journalism,” Mr Matsuura said upon endorsing the recommendation to award the prize to Mr Rivero. “Over the years, Mr Rivero has paid dearly for that commitment and the Prize celebrates the continuing struggle of media professionals for freedom of expression, an indispensable component of democracy,” Mr Matsuura added. “I am deeply concerned about the conditions in which Mr Rivero, who is reported to be ill, is being held and I call on the authorities to free Mr Rivero and the other journalists.”
The jury was chaired by Jamaica’s Oliver Clarke, Chairman of Gleaner Company Limited, who declared: “I hope that the international attention the Prize generates, will encourage the Cuban authorities to respect individuals’ basic human right to express their views freely.”
Born in 1945, Mr Rivero is a prominent journalist and poet. He endured sustained government harassment since leaving the state controlled press in 1988. From that time and until his arrest in March last year, the authorities interrogated and detained him on several occasions and restricted his freedom of movement.
After studying at the Havana Faculty of Journalism, Mr Rivero served as correspondent for the Prensa Latina state news agency in Moscow from 1973 to 1976. He then returned to Cuba and headed the science and culture service of the news agency. In 1989, he resigned from the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists and, in 1995, he founded the Cuba Press independent news agency. In 2001, he was among the founders of the first independent association of journalists in Cuba. Rivero conducted training workshops for Cuban journalists and contributed to the publication of the magazine De Cuba.
Mr Rivero was given a 20-year prison sentence in April 2003 and the 25 other journalists arrested alongside him were handed jail terms of 14 to 27 years. They were tried under Article 91 of the Penal code, which imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for undermining “the independence or territorial integrity of the State.” The journalists’ arrest last March was part of a crackdown in which, beside the journalists, more than 50 dissidents were jailed.
Reportedly detained in the prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Ávila, 461 kilometres east of Havana, Mr Rivero is said to be suffering from circulatory problems. His wife, Blanca Reyes, has expressed serious worry about his health and has described the conditions of his detention as “harsh.” Ms Reyes says she is only allowed to visit her husband every three months.
The $25,000 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded each year on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, which will be celebrated this year in Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro) and Mr Clarke said he hoped that Mr Rivero will be allowed to attend the prize-giving ceremony in Belgrade.
The Prize is awarded by the Director-General of UNESCO on the recommendation of an independent jury of media professionals from all over the world. The Jury, which is chaired by Mr Clarke, includes the following members: Kavi Chongkittavorn, Managing Editor of The Nation (Thailand); Souleymane Diallo, Director of Lynx and La Lance (Guinea); Kunda Dixit, Editor and Publisher of the Nepali Times (Nepal); Yosri Fouda, Deputy Director of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel Ltd; Valérie Gatabazi, President of the Association Rwandaise des Femmes Journalistes (Rwanda); Maria Carmen Gurruchaga Basurto, Director of Primer Café of Antena 3 Television (Spain); Marvin Kalb, Senior Fellow, Shorenstein Center and Faculty Chair, Kennedy School of Government (USA); Guadalupe Mantilla de Acquaviva, Executive President/Director of the Diario el Comercio (Ecuador); journalist Mohamed Larbi Messari (Morocco); Artūras Račas, Editor in Chief, Business Desk, Baltic News Service (Lithuania); Veton Surroi, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Koha Ditore (Kosovo); two representatives of the Fundación Guillermo Cano (Colombia).
The prize, created by UNESCO’s Executive Board in 1997, aims to honour the work of an individual, organization or institution defending or promoting freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this puts the person’s life at risk.
It is named after Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, who was murdered in 1987 for having denounced the activities of his country’s powerful drug barons. Candidates are put forward by Member States, regional and international organizations that promote freedom of expression.
The previous laureates of the World Press Freedom Prize are: Amira Hass (Israel) 2003; Geoffrey Nyarota (Zimbabwe), 2002; imprisoned journalist U Win Tin (Myanmar), 2001; Nizar Nayyouf (Syria), 2000; Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), 1999; Christina Anyanwu (Nigeria), 1998; and Gao Yu (China), 1997.