Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Amnesty: Cuba courts complicit in stifling dissent

Posted on Wednesday, 06.30.10

Amnesty: Cuba courts complicit in stifling dissent
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Cuba uses repressive laws, a well-oiled state security
apparatus and complicit courts to stifle political dissent as it
harasses, spies on and imprisons those who openly oppose its communist
system, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.

The 35-page analysis said restrictions on expressing views deviating
from the official line are "systematic and entrenched," despite the
government's taking "some limited steps to address long-standing
suppression of freedom of expression."

Cuba's government did not respond to a request for comment. It routinely
dismisses international human rights groups as tools of the United States.

Amnesty found that things have not improved since February 2008, when
Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
and it blasted official prohibitions on individual liberties in the name
of national security and in response to Washington's 48-year trade

"No matter how detrimental its impact, the U.S. embargo is a lame excuse
for violating the rights of citizens, as it can in no way diminish the
obligation on the Cuban government to protect, respect and fulfill the
human rights of all Cubans," the report said.

It was compiled using sources on and off the island but contained no
firsthand research since Amnesty has been banned from visiting Cuba
since 1990.

Cuba's human rights situation has been tense since the Feb. 23 death of
dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, considered by Amnesty International a
prisoner of conscience, after a long hunger strike behind bars. Another
opposition activist, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to eat or drink
since then, though he has received fluids and nutrients intravenously at
a hospital near his home in central Cuba.

Both cases drew international condemnation which has softened some since
the government reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to
transfer political prisoners held far from their families to facilities
closer to home, and to give better access to medical care for inmates
who need it.

That led to the transfer of seven prisoners and the release for health
reasons of Ariel Sigler, who became a paraplegic while imprisoned. All
were among 75 activists, community organizers and journalists who defy
island controls on media arrested in a crackdown on organized dissent in
March 2003.

The Amnesty report noted that through the decades, "hundreds of
prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned in Cuba for the peaceful
expression of their views."

"The legal, bureaucratic and administrative infrastructure built up over
the years to silence government opponents and maintain the one party
system remains largely intact," it said, adding that those opponents
"continue to be intimidated and harassed, arbitrarily detained or
imprisoned after unfair, often summary, trials."

Cuba says it holds no political prisoners and safeguards human rights by
providing citizens with free education and health care, as well as
heavily subsidized housing, utilities, transportation and food.

Still, Wednesday's report states that even dissidents outside prison
face temporary detentions, interrogations and warnings at police
stations, concluding that such intimidation has served to "create a
climate of fear in Cuban society."

Cuba's criminal code offers an array of charges to limit dissent,
according to the report, including pre-criminal dangerousness, enemy
propaganda, contempt of authority, rebellion, acts against state
security, distribution of false news and, simply, resistance.

"The lack of independence and impartiality of the judiciary means that
these vaguely worded offenses have been used to punish the legitimate
exercise of freedom of expression," it said.

Cuba can arrest citizens accused of having a "dangerous disposition,"
the report said. Those convicted of potentially committing a crime can
be sentenced to therapy, police surveillance or reeducation.

Authorities also ensure citizens remain cut off from opposition views,
Amnesty found, by maintaining a virtual monopoly on media. It noted that
the "Law of Security of Information" prohibits Internet access from home
for most Cubans, but praised island bloggers who provide uncensored
information in defiance of state website filters.

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