(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 3 September 2009 - In an unprecedented ruling, on Wednesday, a United States federal judge ordered the Cuban Communist Party and the government of Raul Castro to pay a total of US$27.5 million to the mother of jailed Cuban journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes - for whose release IPI has intensively campaigned as part of its Justice Denied Campaign.
"This is a landmark ruling that shows clearly, as a matter of law, that the relatives of a living political prisoner are entitled to be compensated for intentional infliction of emotional distress," the plaintiff's attorney, Pedro Martinez-Fraga told IPI. "The Cuban Communist Party has been found to be a part of the government and therefore liable for punitive damage."
IPI Director David Dadge said: "IPI has been campaigning for the release of Omar Rodriguez Saludes. That has yet to happen. However, yesterday a legal precedent was set which we hope will help strengthen the protection of human rights as a universal value. We welcome the ruling and emphasize its value in terms of affirming universal principles."
Rodriguez, director of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana, was arrested during the infamous Black Spring, or 'Primavera Negra,' March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's political dissidents and independent journalists.
On 22 April 2003, Rodriguez was sentenced to 27 years in prison - the longest sentence handed down to any of the 29 journalists arrested in the crackdown.
Following Rodriguez's sentence, Miami-based attorney Martinez-Fraga initiated a lawsuit on behalf of the journalist's mother, Olivia Saludes, a US resident. In the suit, Martinez-Fraga referred to the US Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), a 220-year-old law that allows US courts to hear cases brought by foreign citizens over conduct committed outside the United States "in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."
On 12 September 2008, Federal Judge Alan Gold accepted the arguments of the plaintiff, stating that Rodriguez "was arrested and detained without being informed of the criminal charges, was convicted in a summary trial and sentenced to 27 years, presumably due to his journalistic activities." He added that "the treatment and conditions of confinement qualify as torture."
Yesterday, Gold ordered the Cuban government to pay US$ 2.5 million in compensatory damages and the Communist Party to pay US$ 25 million inpunitive damages.
"The outrages committed during [Rodriguez's] detention, the days spent under interrogation in the dungeons of the political police, completely isolated, the summary trial and the atrocious conviction as well as all what he experienced in the past six years of detention, are the arguments filed with the Federal Court of the Southern District of Florida," Rodriguez's uncle Miguel Saludes told IPI in a May 2009 interview. He said the lawsuit was based on "the situation of (Rodriguez's mother) Olivia, who has been suffering under various health problems, which began or were exacerbated since the sentence against her son was pronounced, and were caused by that. (. . .) All our family members have suffered the consequences of this tragedy."
The Cuban government did not respond to the suit.
Martinez-Fraga told IPI that he was confident he would be able to collect the compensation from US-based individuals and companies that owe money to Cuba.
"We will win that battle," Martinez-Fraga declared.
The IPI 'Justice Denied' campaign calls for justice in the cases of unjust imprisonment of journalists and impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against them.
IPI has repeatedly urged the Cuban authorities to immediately release not just Omar Rodriguez but also the other 21 journalists still imprisoned byRaul Castro's regime.