Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Amnesty: Cuba harassing dead hunger striker's mom

Posted on Tuesday, 08.17.10
Amnesty: Cuba harassing dead hunger striker's mom
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Amnesty International is calling on Cuban authorities to stop
disrupting weekly marches by the mother of a political prisoner who died
following a lengthy hunger strike.

The London-based human rights group said in a statement Tuesday that
officials should "end the harassment" of Reina Luisa Tamayo, who takes
to the streets each Sunday with a small group of relatives to honor her
son Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died Feb. 23 after refusing food and
water for months.

Tamayo told Amnesty that pro-government mobs surrounded her house in the
eastern Cuba city of Banes on Sunday and prevented her, her family and
friends from marching and attending Roman Catholic Mass. She said Cuban
security forces kept other women who planned to march from leaving their

"Reina Luisa Tamayo is simply paying tribute to her son who died in
tragic circumstances, and that must be respected by the authorities,"
said Kerrie Howard, Amnesty International's Americas deputy director.

Zapata Tamayo, jailed since 2003 on charges that included disrespecting
authority, became the first Cuban opposition figure in nearly 40 years
to die after a hunger strike - an incident decried by U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European leaders.

The communist government has not commented on the case of his mother,
but it tolerates no organized political opposition. Authorities dismiss
dissidents and community organizers as "mercenaries" paid by the U.S.
government and anti-Castro groups in Florida to destabilize the island's
political system. They describe Amnesty and other international rights
organizations as tools of Washington.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent, Havana-based Cuban Commission
on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said by phone Tuesday that
Tamayo "has really begun facing sustained harassment."

Tamayo also told Amnesty that on Aug. 8, a mob blocked her path and beat
relatives and friends who were marching - while police nearby failed to
act. She said six loudspeakers had been installed near her house, used
to shout insults against her and the Ladies in White, a Havana support
group for wives and mother of political prisoners.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American and Florida Republican,
also denounced the treatment of Tamayo, saying that "preventing this
infirmed 62-year-old grieving mother from attending Sunday church is yet
another example of the ruthlessness of the Castro regime."

The government claims such "acts of repudiation" are spontaneous
expressions of public anger, but coordination between state agents and
counter-protesters is open and participants are often bused in.

Under a landmark deal between the government and the Catholic Church on
July 7, authorities agreed to free 52 political prisoners, and so far 23
have been released into exile in Spain with their families.

On Monday, however, police detained and released dissident blogger Luis
Felipe Rojas near his home in San German in the eastern province of
Holguin. Amnesty International expressed concern about that case and
Sanchez said Rojas was arrested with "four or five" others for reasons
unknown - but that all were subsequently freed.

Rojas said via Twitter that he was forced to sit in the lobby of a
police station for 12 hours. He said the reason was his criticism of
Cuba's government on the internet. Though access to his site is not
blocked on the island, his family told Amnesty that he has been detained
previously under similar circumstances.


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