Amnesty denounces detentions of Cuba opposition
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- Amnesty International on Wednesday placed four jailed Cubans
on its global list of prisoners of conscience, the only inmates on the
island to have such a designation, and denounced the Communist-run
government for what it called a campaign of intimidation and short-term
detentions targeting the opposition.
The report, released just days ahead of a visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict
XVI, said the human rights situation on the island "has further
deteriorated" with thousands of express detentions meant to cow the
small dissident community. It said detainees are threatened and
sometimes beaten before release.
"The Cuban government wages a permanent campaign of harassment and
short-term detentions of political opponents to stop them from demanding
respect for civil and political rights," Amnesty wrote. "Criticism of
the government is not tolerated in Cuba and it is routinely punished."
There was no immediate reaction from the government, but it routinely
dismisses Amnesty and other international rights groups as tools of the
United States. It is particularly sensitive about claims of physical
abuse, denying such practices and noting that the U.S. has been accused
of torture of terror suspects at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
An editorial in Communist Party newspaper Granma on Wednesday accused
dissidents on the island and exiles in South Florida of stirring up
trouble ahead of the pope's visit to pressure the pontiff into
statements criticizing the government. Cuba claims opposition figures
are paid stooges controlled by Washington, its longtime enemy.
Amnesty noted that it has long spoken out against the 50-year U.S.
economic embargo on Cuba, but also criticized the government of
President Raul Castro for using the sanctions as an excuse to repress
the rights of the Cuban people. Raul and his brother Fidel have led the
country since 1959, and only the Communist Party is legal here.
"Regardless of US foreign policy toward Cuba, the Cuban authorities are
solely responsible for the violations of civil and political rights,"
The report says one Cuban activist was detained 15 times between April
and October of 2011, and another taken in 17 times since July for
reporting on protest marches. It says authorities have also increased
harassment of the Ladies in White dissident group that has sought to
step up activities in the provinces.
Tensions between island authorities and the dissident community have
been high in the lead-up to Benedict's arrival. On March 13, 13
dissidents occupied a church in Central Havana and demanded an audience
with the visiting pontiff. Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega called police in
to remove them two days later, though he won assurances from authorities
that they would not be prosecuted.
Then on Sunday, more than 60 supporters of the Ladies in White were
briefly detained. Some were taken into custody hours before their
regularly scheduled protest march. Others made it to the march and were
later hustled onto a bus belonging to state security. They were almost
all released after several hours, but group leader Bertha Soler said
Wednesday her husband, a dissident and former political prisoner in his
own right, was held until Tuesday night.
In its report, Amnesty highlighted the cases of four Cubans who it said
were in jail solely for the peaceful expression of political views:
- Brothers Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Maiquel Lima Cruz, the
founders of a small online newspaper called Cardonga that was closed
down in 2009, have been jailed since December 2010. According to
Amnesty, they were convicted of "insulting symbols of the homeland" and
sentenced to two and three years in jail, respectively. Their mother, a
member of the Ladies in White dissident group, has also been subject to
repeated brief detentions.
- The group also took up the case of Yasmin Conyedo Riveron, another
Ladies in White supporter, and her activist husband Yusmani Rafael
Alvarez Esmori. Both were arrested in January in the central city of
Villa Clara and charged with violence against a state official, which
could earn them up to five years in jail. The case stems from a
disagreement between Conyedo and a local female Communist Party
official, according to Amnesty, which noted that even the official in
question has asked authorities to drop the charges.
Last year, Cuba freed the last of 75 intellectuals, activists and social
commentators locked up in 2003. The decision cleared Cuban jails of
inmates Amnesty considered peaceful prisoners of conscience, though
others remain behind bars for often violent, but politically motivated
In January, Amnesty was on the verge of declaring a hunger striking
Cuban inmate named Wilman Villar a prisoner of conscience when the man
died in custody. Three other prisoners were released hours after Amnesty
took up their cases.
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