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Independent Cuban journalists petition against increased government repression

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HAVANA (Reuters) – A group of 55 independent journalists, bloggers and activists in Communist-run Cuba launched a petition this week denouncing increased media repression and calling for guarantees for press freedom.

Nearly 900 people have so far signed the petition published on Tuesday that also warns of another government crackdown like the 2003 “Black Spring” when 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists, were jailed.

The Cuban state has a monopoly on traditional media, but independent journalism has flourished online in recent years in Cuba in tandem with the expansion of internet access.

Authorities have mostly tolerated these outlets, which exist in a grey legal space, although they have blocked several websites. Reporters say they have also faced harassment that has picked up of late.

This includes short-term detentions, raids on homes, confiscation of equipment, interrogations, bans on leaving the country, defamation campaigns, hacking of personal accounts and intimidation of family and friends.

“Physical, juridical and psychological repression has increased,” reads the petition, published on the online campaigns group Avaaz. https://bit.ly/2lTTY8W

Original signers include Yoani Sanchez, a well-known dissident blogger and director of the news outlet 14ymedio and Carlos Manuel Alvarez, a writer and editor of the more recently launched narrative journalism website El Estornudo.

They call for “the cessation of repression against those who exercise freedoms of the press and expression in Cuba” and “the establishment of legal guarantees to exercise them”.

They also call for the release of Roberto Quinones, who writes for the Florida-based website CubaNet and was sentenced to one year of “correctional labour” a month ago on charges of resisting authorities during an incident in April. [L5N26458E]

Various international rights groups including Amnesty International have accused authorities of subjecting him to a sham trial to silence him.

Cuban authorities do not comment on police activity such as the detention of dissidents, and the Havana dismisses them as provocateurs financed by the United States to subvert the government.

CubaNet, like a handful of other outlets focused on Cuba but headquartered abroad, receives U.S. government financing as part of a broader American push to open up the country.

Various independent Cuban outlets have published articles recently on harassment they are facing.

“The increase of these attacks since the middle of last year has prompted at least seven (of our) reporters to leave the island,” wrote website Tremenda Nota earlier this week in an editorial.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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