By David Ariosto, CNN
June 30, 2010 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
* Amnesty says Cuban government has created "climate of fear"
* Group says laws are so vague almost any dissent is illegal in some way
* Prisoner transfers, releases seem to hint at policy change
* Catholic Church's influence apparently growing
Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuba has created a "climate of fear" among
political activists and journalists working on the island nation,
according to a report released Wednesday by the human rights group
"The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed
criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak
out against the government," Kerrie Howard, the group's deputy Americas
director, said in a statement.
The London-based organization reported that the country's court system
and penal codes are used to stifle dissent and urged the government to
release what it identified as 53 "prisoners of conscience."
The Cuban government was not immediately available for comment but has
traditionally viewed dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of foreign
Cuba points to a series of clandestine actions by the United States that
it says were designed to topple the country's leadership and overthrow a
government installed by former Cuban president Fidel Castro in 1959.
The Amnesty report described the resulting 48 year-old U.S. trade
embargo against the communist government as a "lame excuse" that Cuban
leaders use to justify violating human rights.
Amnesty acknowledged that its reporting is based on "independent
sources." It has no first-hand research on the island since being banned
by the Cuban government in 1990.
The country's human rights record came under intense scrutiny earlier
this year after jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died
following a prolonged hunger strike.
Zapata's death sparked international condemnation from Europe and
Washington and drew a rare statement of regret from Cuban President Raul
But a recent series of transfers of prisoners to jails closer to their
homes, and the release of two political dissidents, have raised
questions about whether Cuba is slowly changing policy toward its
Last week's release of jailed activist Darsi Ferrer follows a meeting
between President Castro and Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique
Mamberti, whose visit came amid signs of growing influence by Cuba's
Roman Catholic Church.
In May, Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, described a rare
four-hour meeting with President Castro as a "magnificent start" to
talks centered around the potential release of some of the island's
Church officials and human rights groups continue to express their
desire for more prisoner releases.