The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and independent journalist from the City of Santa Clara in central Cuba. Fariñas has been imprisoned 11 different times for his advocacy for a peaceful transition to democracy and the rule of law on the island. He received worldwide attention after the death of Orland Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died during a hunger strike calling for better treatment for Castro's political captives. The Cuban authorities denied Tamayo water during the last 18 days of his life.
On December 10 the Cuban government refused to permit Guillermo Fariñas to travel to Strasbourg, France, to receive the award. An empty chair draped in a Cuban flag was placed on stage to represent his absence. Fariñas recorded an acceptance speech in Cuba, which was played for members of the European Parliament at the ceremony. According to Fariñas, the Cuban government's refusal to let him travel was "the most irrefutable witness to the fact that unfortunately, nothing has changed in the autocratic system ruling my country...In the minds of Cuba's current rulers, we Cuban citizens are just like the slaves from whom I am descended, kidnapped in Africa and brought to the Americas by force. For any other ordinary citizen to be able to travel abroad, I need a Carta de Libertad, that is a Freedom Card, just as the slaves did; Only today it is called a Carta Blanca, a White Card."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is pushing the National Assembly to pass tough new legislation that would “regulate the freedom of expression” and stipulates prison terms for journalists—ranging from 6 months to 4 years—for disseminating news “that causes serious public disorder, fear and anxiety among the population, or damages to state institutions.” Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s attorney general, insists that "freedom of expression must be limited” to punish media owners who "manipulate the news with the purpose of transmitting a false perception of the facts."
The proposed legislation is the government’s latest move comes amid an ongoing campaign to rein in private news organizations. In 2007, the government revoked the broadcasting license of the national television channel Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional (RCTV), saying the station supported the 2002 coup against President Chávez. More recently the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) has launched “administrative procedures” against 240 broadcasters, claiming they have not met legal requirements to keep their affairs in order with state authorities.
Opponents of the bill called it “reminiscent of the dark days of Latin American dictatorships” and “a serious setback to freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela.” The vice president of Venezuela’s National College of Journalists, Alonso Moleiro, said the government was intent on “dismantling” the influence of private media and “shutting up some opinion formers.”