Received today, a circular from International PEN that begins:
Today is a momentous day for Cuba. Fifty years ago, on 16 February 1959, Fidel Castro brought about the fall of the US-backed dictatorship of Batista and Cuba became the western hemisphere's first communist state. 2009 has been a doubly significant year for Cuba, due to President Obama's orders for the closure of the most notorious prison on the island, Guantanamo Bay. Within a year, the horrific prison conditions against which there have been worldwide protests for the last seven years will cease to exist.
However, there are reportedly over 300 other prisons on the island, many of which are notorious for the ill treatment of political prisoners. These prisoners are often deprived of food and water, whilst guards are known to abuse them both physically and mentally. Many are drugged, left naked for weeks on end or kept in cages where they can barely move. Some resort to self-mutilation in the hope of being granted an early release.
Such treatment has contributed to the rapid decline in health of the many cases of concern to English PEN. In fact, one of the twenty one writers, journalists and librarians still detained almost six years after the 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown on dissidents, reportedly greeted Obama's announcement by saying "When will the world open its eyes and say that the other Guantanamos should be closed?"
Fancy there being another 300 Gitmos in such a small island. Would you ever have guessed? I check the press freedom chart and find Iceland, Luxemburg and Norway sharing no 1 spot. UK is at 23 and rising (equal with Hungary), though if you do it simply as points totals, UK is equal tenth. As you go down you find: France (35), Italy (44) Israel proper (47), Chile (56), dropping through Brazil (82), Bahrain (96), Venezuela (113), Malaysia (132), Russia (141), the bottom of the table being rounded off with, in descending order, Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea as rock bottom.
As International PEN point out the greatest press freedom is associated not with prosperity but with peace. Has Cuba been at war this past fifty years? Has China?
Reporters without Borders say:
“The world’s closed countries, governed by the worst press freedom predators, continue to muzzle their media at will, with complete impunity, while organisations such as the UN lose all authority over their members,”
As a point of interest the UN Human Rights Council comprises 47 states of which 19 are in positions below 100, with another 7 below 70. It includes Russia, China, Cuba, Malaysia, Azerbaijan and etc etc. That constitutes a majority. They are guaranteeing your human rights.
But hey, no one's perfect.