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Cuban journalists arrested on way to cover award ceremony in Havana organized by pro-democracy groups

This article has been updated with details of the charges against Constantín Ferreiro, as well as statements from IAPA and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Cuban journalist Henry Constantín Ferreiro has been accused of the crime of enemy propaganda after being arrested on his way to cover a ceremony in remembrance of a late opposition politician, according to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Journalist Henry Constantin (Facebook)

Constantín, editor of magazine La Hora de Cuba, and Sol García Basulto, journalist for Cuban site 14ymedio, were stopped from traveling from Camagüey to Havana on Feb. 21.

According to 14ymedio, García Basulto said both journalists were arrested at the airport on the night of Feb. 20. She said her cellphone and some documents were taken by police before she was transferred to a police station and later released.

The news site reported that Constantín’s mother said “police had set up an operation around the house [starting at 7 p.m.] but he [Constantín] had already left for the airport.”

IAPA reported on Feb. 23 that Constantín Ferreiro was detained for a day and a half and "he was urged to leave the country and charged with the crime of enemy propaganda, an offense under the Penal Code carrying with it punishment of one to eight years in prison." The organization added the journalist was told he would be formally informed of the charges on Feb. 27 and that the public prosecutor's office would determine his punishment within 72 hours of his leaving jail.

During his interrogation, a major had copies of the magazine that Constantín Ferreiro edits and a large file on the journalist on his desk, the IAPA said. That same major "threatened him and demanded that he choose between leaving the country or shutting up or going to prison," the organization added.

IAPA reported that Constantín Ferreiro told them he and García Basulto's phones were returned to them after their release, but they were inoperable, and that two people in plainsclothes were posted outside his home.

In addition to being editor of magazine La Hora de Cuba, Constantín is also regional vice chairman for Cuba of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

The IAPA has condemned his arrest and called for his release. It has since called on the international community, and U.S. President Donald Trump, to intercede.

"We have very little time to protect our colleague and that is why we ask the solidarity of the international community to intercede before the government of Cuba that is desist from any kind of punishment," said Roberto Rock, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, and Matt Sanders, IAPA President.

The Oswaldo Payá: Liberty and Life award was to be given to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), who was also blocked from traveling to Havana.

Payá, who fought for democracy and freedom of speech in Cuba, died in a car accident in 2012. His daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, founder of Cuba Decide, has said the Cuban government caused the accident, but it denies doing so, according to the Associated Press. Cuba Decide, a nonprofit working for a plebiscite “to initiate a transition to democracy,” and the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy organize the Oswaldo Payá prize.

In a letter to Rosa Maria Payá, Almagro wrote that the Cuban Consulate in Washington denied his visa application for the official OAS passport and he was also told he would be denied entry with a Uruguayan diplomatic passport. Almagro wrote that, in a meeting with another official of the OAS with the Consul of Cuba in Washington and the First Secretary of the Consulate, “’astonishment’ [was conveyed] at the involvement of the Secretary General of the OAS in anti-Cuban activities."

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin, as well as two coordinators for Cuba Decide, were also denied entry to Cuba to attend the event.

Calderón said he was blocked from boarding a plane in Mexico City because he was not authorized by order of the Cuban Government, El Universal reported.

Granma published a Feb. 22 statement from the Ministry of Foreign Relations concerning Almagro's intended trip to Havana and the "'prize' invented by an illegal grouplet, which operates in concert with the ultra-right wing Foundation for Pan American democracy."

"The plan, plotted during several trips to Washington and other capitals of the region, consisted of mounting a serious, open provocation against the Cuban government in Havana, generating internal instability, damaging the country's international image, and at the same time, affecting the positive development of Cuba's diplomatic relations with other states."


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