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RSF correspondent turns 60 in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - In poor health ever since his arrest in 2003, the Reporters Without Borders Cuba correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso "celebrated" his 60th birthday in jail on 18 February 2010. Sentenced to 20 years in prison just for doing his job, González has had to endure the harassment and mistreatment that is standard fare for Cuban prisoners of conscience.

González founded and ran the Manuel Márquez Sterling training centre for independent journalists and edited the independent biweekly "De Cuba". He won the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize in the "journalist" category.

He was arrested on 18 March 2003 during an unprecedented government crackdown on dissidents that is now known as the "Black Spring." Tried on 4 April 2003 with his friend, poet and fellow-journalist Raúl Rivero, he was convicted of being an "agent in the pay of the United States" although no evidence was produced to support this charge.

Nineteen of the 25 journalists currently imprisoned in Cuba were arrested during the same "Black Spring" crackdown and are serving sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison.

Despite serious health problems, especially lung ailments, González continues to be held in a cell in Havana's Combinado del Este prison. After undergoing four operations in 2006 and 2007 and a long spell in hospital, he was returned to his prison cell on 27 January 2008 although still in very poor health. On 26 January of this year, he finally received treatment for which he had been waiting for months.

Like other political prisoners, he has been held in collective cells along with ordinary offenders and, as a result, has been exposed to harassment and violence from cellmates. "We hold the government responsible for Ricardo's health," his wife, Alida Viso Bello, said.

There has been no let-up in government harassment of dissidents, especially bloggers, since Raúl Castro took over as president on 24 February 2008. In the latest case, dissident journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira reported at the start of February 2010 that he had been banished to the Isle of Youth after being arrested and beaten.

The Cuban government's signing of the UN's two conventions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, has not been followed by any sign of an improvement in respect for human rights. Like all the other imprisoned journalists, González must be freed.

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