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Cuban Journalist Beaten by Masked Men

Photographs of Mabel Páez, a Cuban journalist who says she was attacked by masked men she believes were working for the government. (Mabel Páez via ICLP)
Photographs of Mabel Páez, a Cuban journalist who says she was attacked by masked men she believes were working for the government. (Mabel Páez via ICLP)

The attack was brief but violent, and it left Mabel Páez in no doubt as to why it took place.

Photographs of the Cuban journalist show cuts and bruising to her face, arms and body after the attack by two masked men, who broke into her home Tuesday.

Nothing was taken, and the attackers did not speak to her. But Páez believes it was a deliberate assault in retaliation for reporting on protests against Cuba's communist government.

"These two men came into my house and beat me with their fists. They did not say anything. It was all over in seconds. I was in such shock afterwards," she told VOA.

Páez said she had no doubt the men were police or operatives from the state security.

"It was so frightening. I am sure these men were sent to my house to threaten me. It is just the latest in a series of threats," she said.

The assault came amid an increase in violence against Cuban media. At least 29 journalists were physically attacked in November, according to the Association for Freedom of the Press, an independent Cuban media organization.

Journalists who do not work for state media contend that the increasing use of violence is a sign of a toughening crackdown by the government and security forces.

The photographs of Páez's injuries are, they say, a stark example of how physical assaults are becoming a new normal of state oppression.

Cuba blames US

The Cuban government has been cracking down on opposition activists and journalists amid protests calling for more freedom.

The communist government has said that the U.S. government orchestrated the movement and that recent protests failed because of lack of popular support.

VOA contacted the Cuban Embassy in Madrid and the International Press Center in Havana for a response to the accounts of Páez and other journalists who alleged that government security had assaulted them. No one responded prior to publication.

Páez is editor of the independent local newspaper El Majadero de Artemisa, which the Cuban government does not recognize.

Among other subjects, her newspaper reported on the opposition group Archipelago's failed attempt to launch a nationwide protest last month.

After the assault, Páez went to a hospital where, she said, doctors told her they had no X-ray equipment. She was given painkillers.

Páez reported the assault to police. She said an agent from the National Revolutionary Police took away a certificate that a doctor had provided to confirm her injuries.

Then another man, who Páez believes was a member of the political police — which is part of the state security forces — took the medical certificate and told her to go home.

"This was a well thought out and calculated operation by the political police. In this country, nothing happens by accident," she said.

Other assaults on journalists

Independent journalists in Cuba said the assault on Páez was the latest in a series of physical attacks by state security services to intimidate the media. Two days earlier, police had raided Páez's home searching for Alberto Corzo, the director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP), a nongovernmental group that created a network of independent journalists.

Corzo had been under house arrest since the protests took place in July. Last month, he was charged with hanging posters critical of the government, an allegation he denies. He was later released.

Journalist Adriano Castañeda, who works in the central region of Villa Clara, was also assaulted last month.

Castañeda works for U.S. government-funded Radio Marti, which, like VOA, is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media. He also reports on social media.

Three men attacked Castañeda on November 22. He showed a photograph of the injuries he sustained to his nose and mouth during the attack.

He believes that two officers from an Interior Ministry unit that combats subversion ordered the attack.

Castañeda said one of his attackers told him, "This is so that you don't say anything else about the revolution. You shut up or you die."

"In the past months, I have suffered a number of threats from the counterintelligence of the Ministry of the Interior, and in less than a year, this is the second beating that they have given me to try to silence my reports on social media and Radio Marti," he said.

Radio Marti reported Castañeda's account of the attack on November 23.

Neither the Cuban Embassy in Madrid nor its International Press Center in Havana responded to VOA's requests for a response to the allegations.

Detention of journalists

Normando Hernández, the director general of ICLEP in Miami, told VOA, "I roundly condemn what happened to Mabel [Páez] and urge the Cuban regime to find justice for her and assume responsibility for what happened."

In addition to the attacks, Hernández said, at least three journalists are currently behind bars, and three more are under house arrest.

Prisoners Defenders, a Madrid-based rights organization, reported this week that Cuba has detained 805 political prisoners since November 2020. The figure includes journalists, including five in prison and four under house arrest, it said.

Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego, who works for Amanecer Habanero, an online news outlet not aligned with the government, said that he had been under house arrest with his wife before and after the planned November 15 opposition protest but that this was no longer the case.

He told VOA that he had also been physically attacked by people he believes are state representatives.

"[These attacks on journalists] are the result of a failed dictatorship in decline where they are starting to use all the resources possible to try to silence all the voices which undermine their totalitarian status," he said.

In its report on attacks, the Association for Freedom of the Press related stories of how reporters had been assaulted by gangs, whom the journalists took to be supporters of the state.

Páez, a single mother, must keep working to support herself and her 19-year-old son. She has been working at her local paper for the past five years and has no other job.

When she spoke to VOA, she found it hard to talk because of the bruises on her face.

"This job is the only thing I want to do. I am scared, yes, but despite what has happened, this will not stop me reporting what this government is doing, how they are limiting our liberties," she said.

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse.