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Missing Journalists
Tuesday, August 22, 2006   By: Juan Paxety

While covering the world's dungeons

A week ago a Fox News Channel reporter, Steve Centanni, and photographer, Olaf Wiig, were kidnapped in the Gaza Strip by persons so far unknown.  There have been no demands for their release - at least none that have been publicized. Fox is not reporting much, hoping to be able to negotiate with the kidnappers, and other media has had little to say about the missing men.

Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of the men - one of the few organizations showing concern:

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the release of the two Fox News journalists, reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman 0laf Wiig, who were kidnapped on 14 August in Gaza City. The press freedom organisation is becoming increasingly concerned that no group has claimed responsibility for their abduction, despite the many appeals for their release.

I met Steve once - sort of. I was working for a Fox O&O and Steve did a live shot for us from Washington, so I spoke with him through an IFB - not face to face. He seemed to be what his reputation was - a straightforward reporter without the huge ego so many have. He's not the kind of flashy reporter folks remember as they do someone like Shepard Smith.

Steve's not the only missing journalist in this world filled with enemies of freedom.  fidel castro has seized his share, too. In a 2003 crackdown, castro seized 23 journalists and sentenced them to long prison terms. Their crimes? What would be considered simple reporting in civilized countries. The authorities call the offense "dangerousness."

Now that raul castro is acting head of the country, Reporters Without Borders is calling on him to release the prisoners.

“We are waiting for a gesture of clemency towards the 23 journalists who have been in jail since the crackdown in 2003,” it said. “They are living in dirty cells with contaminated water, are ill-treated and visits to them are restricted. They are not getting proper medical care and the health of most of them is deteriorating each day.

“It is urgent for the new head of government to act. Cuba is the world’s second biggest prison for journalists. Harassment and threats of jail must also stop so the freedom to report and think differently from the government can be restored,” it said.

But instead of freeing journalists, raul continues to harass them:

Ahmed Rodríguez, 21, who works in Havana for the news agency Jovenes sin Censura, was harassed with his family all night long on 4 August by officials and about 60 government activists who surrounded his house, stuck political posters on the walls and stopped family members and others coming or going.

Negotiations were needed for the journalist’s 12-year-old sister to be allowed to go and buy bread. The activists insulted Rodríguez about his work and he angered them by shouting back “Long live human rights!” His sister vomited in fright and his mother became ill.

Independent journalist Alicia Niobis Ortis Salmón, of the Cuban Liberal Party, was arrested by police on 4 August, interrogated by the head of state security, warned to stop working as an independent journalist and told she was being watched and could be prosecuted.

The conditions of detention of some jailed independent journalists have deteriorated, including for Oscar Mario González, of the Grupo de Trabajo agency, who has been held without trial for the past year and is in very bad health, with blood in his urine for several days but still not allowed to see a doctor or take any medicine.

Ricardo González Alfonso, founder of the magazine De Cuba and correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, who has been in jail since March 2003, is weak after an urgent operation to remove an abdominal granuloma caused by an earlier gall-bladder operation botched when surgeons closed the excision wound on the outside but not the inside.

Guillermo Fariñas, head of the Cubanacán Press agency, is near death since a hunger-strike he began on 31 January to obtain Internet access has now had irreversible effects on some of his organs. He has intercostal nephritis and strong pain attacks prevent him from sleeping.

Val Prieto of Babalublog has written an outstanding column for Town Hall on one journalist fighting against long odds to bring truth and freedom to his country.

The “r” on the typewriter no longer works and there’s no ñ key. The ink being engraved into the paper isn’t ink; it’s shoe polish. Typewriter ribbons are hard to come by and paper is old, brittle and scarce. There’s no copy machine, no scanner, no fax and there is no phone next to the typewriter on his desk. Computers aren't allowed. Satellite dishes receiving the latest world news aren't allowed. There’s no software, no hardware, and no staff. There are only a few sheets of yellowing paper, a typewriter, a pencil and a candle to see by.

He works by candlelight not because of the frequent “apagones” – power outages – but because any light shining though his window late at night is but a beacon to those who want to silence him. It would serve as proof that he’s up to no good by the standards of his government and an excuse to be picked up and taken into custody for “dangerousness.”

Read the whole thing as they say.


(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren