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UN fears press freedom violations following arrests, trial of Cuban journalists

UN fears press freedom violations following arrests, trial of Cuban journalists

As troubling details continue to emerge surrounding the arrest and trial of nearly 100 Cuban journalists and human rights activists, the head of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today urged authorities in Havana to respect and uphold fundamental civil liberties.

"I am very concerned about the situation of freedom of expression and press freedom in Cuba," Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said from UNESCO's Paris-based headquarters today, adding that reports regarding the wave of recent arrests, in which at least 24 journalists and as many as 78 human rights activists have been jailed, were worrying.

"Promoting the free flow of ideas by word and image is part of UNESCO's constitution," he said, adding his concern that the arrests - which began last month - and subsequent trials represented a serious infringement of the right to freedom of expression and other basic rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which the UN and UNESCO were created to uphold.

Commenting on the trials, which opened last Thursday, Mr. Matsuura said UNESCO has received reports that defendants have not had access to proper legal counsel and that international observers and media have been barred from the hearings. "I urge the Cuban authorities to respect fundamental rights of journalists and other individuals arrested for speaking their mind," he declared.