Press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders is backing Costa Rica’s request to allow imprisoned journalist Normando Hernández to leave Cuba for humanitarian reasons.
Hernández’s health has been deteriorating since his arrest during the Cuban government’s 2003 crackdown on journalists known as “Black Spring.”
Costa Rica’s consul in Havana, José María Penabad, formally submitted the request to Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Sept. 16, according to a Reporters Without Borders statement.
Calling Hernández’s condition “alarming,” the press freedom organization said Hernández should be transported to Costa Rica so he can receive proper treatment.
“Humanitarian concerns are clearly paramount as regards all prisoners of conscience, especially the 20 journalists held since March 2003 in very harsh conditions,” the group said in a statement, asking other governments to support the initiative.
Immigration in Costa Rica notified the consul Sept. 14 that it had issued a humanitarian visa for Hernández at the request of National Union Party legislator José Manuel Echandi, who has been pushing for the visa since June.
Echandi told The Tico Times that in addition to a hunger strike taken to protest his jailing, Hernández has been suffering from tuberculosis.
“He doesn’t have access to medicine to control his illness,” Echandi said, adding that he is also filing an appeal with the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission for Hernández’s liberation.
The director of an independent Cuban news agency, Hernández was arrested in March 2003 with 26 other journalists during the last major crackdown on Cuban dissidents.
Accused of spying and threatening state security, he was given a 25-year prison sentence, the organization said.
Hernández has been held since September 2006 in high security prison. He went on a hunger strike in March of this year and the effects coupled with tuberculosis have caused the deterioration of his health. He was recently transferred to a Havana hospital, Echandi said.
With 24 journalists currently jailed, Cuba is the world’s second biggest prison for the press after China, according to Reporters Without Borders. Three of those now in prison were arrested after Raúl Castro took over as acting President in July of last year. The 20 others still held since March 2003 are serving prison sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years.