Wed, 17 Mar 2010 9:32p.m.
The human rights group Amnesty international appealed to Cuban President
Raul Castro to release political prisoners and scrap laws that restrict
fundamental freedoms, using the seventh anniversary of a major crackdown
on dissent to call for change.
Amnesty was especially critical of Cuban laws that make vague offenses
like "dangerousness" a jailable crime. Police are allowed to arrest
somebody who has committed no crime if they can show the person has a
proclivity to be dangerous in the future, Amnesty said.
"Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of
expression, association and assembly," Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy
director at Amnesty International, said in a statement Tuesday. Howard
said Cuba "desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the
country in line with basic international human rights standards".
The group said it was making the call for change around the anniversary
of one of Cuba's largest recent crackdowns on dissent - the March 18,
2003, arrest of some 75 people, including many independent journalists,
on charges including treason and working for an enemy state.
Fifty-three of them remain jailed and many have received lengthy sentences.
The government did not respond to a request for comment on the Amnesty
report, but routinely dismisses such human rights groups as tools of the
Cuba's human rights situation has been brought back into the spotlight
by the February 23 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger
strike in jail. Another man, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to eat or
drink since shortly after Zapata Tamayo's death, though he has
intermittently received fluids and nutrients intravenously at a local
The European Parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to condemn Cuba
for Zapata Tamayo's death, which it called "avoidable and cruel". Cuba
responded quickly, saying it "rejects impositions, intolerance and
On Tuesday, a leading official group for Cuban intellectuals issued a
statement calling Zapata Tamayo a common criminal. It denounced
international criticism as part of a smear campaign against the country,
and singled out foreign "media corporations and hegemonic interests" as
leading culprits in what it called a coordinated anti-Cuban effort.
"We know with what malice and morbidity they distort our reality and lie
daily about Cuba," the National Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba
wrote of the foreign media.
Mexico is the latest country to openly criticise the Cuban government,
with the Foreign Ministry saying Monday that it regretted the death of
Zapata Tamayo and was worried about the fate of Farinas.
"With all due respect to the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba ...
Mexico urges the Cuban government to take the actions necessary to
protect the health and dignity of its prisoners, including those accused
or convicted of the crime of dangerousness," it said.
It is not clear what Cuba's small, fractured opposition is planning to
mark the March 18 anniversary. The Ladies in White, a group of mothers,
wives and sisters of those jailed in 2003, has declared a week of
protest including marches, prayer gatherings and the reading of letters
from their jailed loved ones.
On Tuesday, dozens of government supporters screamed at the women as
they marched peacefully in Havana, shouting slogans like "Long live Fidel!"
Such "acts of repudiation" have become somewhat of a ritual in Cuba. The
government claims they arise spontaneously as a result of Cubans's
disgust with dissidents. Others believe that the government organizes
them and that many of those taking part are members of state security.
In a statement sure to anger Cuba, Amnesty linked the fate of the
dissidents and Cuba's overall human rights record to the eventual
lifting of the 48-year US economic embargo, which Cuba considers an
"The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise
of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself," said Howard. "But also
constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning
of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo
Cuba has steadfastly refused to link political reform it sees as an
internal affair with its own demands that the embargo be lifted.
It denounces the dissidents as common criminals and mercenaries paid by
Washington to destabilise the country, and insists all nations have the
right to jail traitors and others seeking to overthrow their government.