The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is pleased to note that the writer and journalist Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez was freed on 12 February 2011, after almost eight years in prison. Unlike the 18 others freed last year, who were all exiled to Spain as a precondition of their release, Maseda has been allowed to remain in Cuba under a special parole programme. The WiPC calls on the Cuban government to make Maseda's release unconditional and to free the remaining four journalists and librarians in jail immediately and unconditionally.
Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez, founder of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was released on 12 February 2011 along with one other political prisoner and allowed to return to his home in Havana. He is the 19th of the writers jailed since a government crackdown on dissidents in March 2003 to be freed under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign ministry in July last year.
Unlike the 18 other writers and independent journalists and librarians released between July and September 2010, who were all forced to accept exile in Spain, Maseda has been allowed to remain in Cuba under a special parole programme. This means that his prison sentence (20 years in total, with 12 remaining) has not been lifted. Local human rights activists have expressed concern that the parole programme will be used as a way to maintain control over political prisoners after their release. Maseda has demanded a full pardon and has also called for the release of other prisoners who are ill.
Under the release deal, all remaining dissidents in prison since March 2003 were to be freed by the end of October 2010, however this failed to materialise. With Maseda's release, there are now a total of four independent journalists and librarians still in prison on the island. Pedro Argüelles Morán (Cooperative of Independent Avileña Journalists), Iván Hernández Carrillo (Agencia Patria news agency and Juan Gualberto Gómez Library) and Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez (20 de Mayo Library), all jailed in March 2003, have reportedly not yet been released because, like Maseda, they have refused to leave Cuba. Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández (Habana Press) was imprisoned in April 2009.
An engineer with a degree in nuclear physics, Maseda (68) began working as an independent journalist in 1995 after losing his government job as a result of his political views. He later co-founded the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, which published reports critical of Cuba in the foreign media. He also wrote for the Miami-based news website CubaNet. Maseda reportedly focused on social, economic and historical topics not covered in the official press and wrote investigative pieces, including a series on human right abuses in Cuban prisons published shortly before his arrest in 2003.
Once jailed, Maseda continued to write about prison conditions first hand. The first part of his memoir, Enterrados Vivos (Buried Alive) was published in the United States in 2007, after the manuscript was smuggled out of prison one page at a time. It has also been published in the Caribbean and Western Europe.
Maseda is also the founder and president of the banned Cuban Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Cubano). He is an Honorary Member of Italian PEN.
- Report by the BBC (13 February 2011): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12441483 (English); http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/ultimas_noticias/2011/02/110212_ultnot_cuba_liberacion_disidente_maseda_lr.shtml (Spanish)
- Report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (14 February 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/02/cuban-journalist-released-on-parole-allowed-to-sta.php (English)
- Firsthand accounts of some of the released Cuban journalists can be read on CPJ's blog: http://www.cpj.org/tags/after-the-black-spring (English and Spanish)