Wednesday, December 31, 2014

U.S. condemns Cuba's 'practice of repressing' after activists detained

U.S. condemns Cuba's 'practice of repressing' after activists detained
HAVANA Wed Dec 31, 2014 1:43am EST

(Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday condemned what it called
Cuba's practice of repression following the detention of several
activists, in the first major test of President Barack Obama's policy
shift toward normalizing relations with the communist-ruled island.

The State Department said it was deeply concerned by the detention on
Tuesday of several "peaceful civil society members and activists" by the
Cuban authorities.

"We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued harassment and
repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence
critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom expression, and
intimidate citizens," the State Department said in a statement.

"We urge the government of Cuba to end its practice of repressing these
and other internationally protected freedoms and to respect the
universal human rights of Cuban citizens," it added.

The arrests marked the most significant crackdown on the opposition
since Cuba and the United States agreed on Dec. 17 to restore diplomatic
ties and put behind them more than five decades of hostility.

About 12 opponents were taken away by police, including the husband of
opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, while several others were told not to
leave their homes as police parked outside, said Elizardo Sanchez,
leader of a dissident human rights commission that monitors such detentions.

Other dissident leaders reported multiple detentions or that activists
were ordered to stay at home. Yoani Sanchez's website
reported she was under virtual house arrest.

The detentions stopped a planned open microphone event at Havana's
Revolution Square, near the government headquarters.

Event organizer Tania Bruguera, a performance artist, was missing and
her associates presumed she, too, had been detained. Bruguera had vowed
to go ahead with the event even after Cuban officials denied her a permit.

The event flopped, with only 15 participants, surrounded by a phalanx of
reporters. A parallel event in Miami called by Cuban exiles drew 50 people.

Cuba had called the open microphone event a "political provocation," and
it was unclear how long the dissidents would be held. Cuba typically
holds dissidents for several hours and releases them.

"The United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold
its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to
peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions," the State
Department said.

Earlier, Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter: "Freedom of expression
remains of U.S. policy on Cuba; we support activists exercising those
rights and condemn today's detentions."

Jacobsen is due to lead a U.S. delegation to Havana in January to begin
normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba that had been severed since 1961.

Yoani Sanchez said on Twitter police detained her husband Reinaldo
Escobar and dissident leader Eliecer Avila outside her home in Havana,
taking them away in handcuffs.

Escobar is editor-in-chief of the dissident news and opinion website and Avila is the leader of the opposition group Somos Mas
(We Are More).

Upon announcing his new Cuba policy, Obama said Cubans should not face
harassment or arrest for expressing their views and that his government
would continue to monitor human rights.

The deal on renewing ties included a prisoner swap in which the United
States freed three Cuban spies and Cuba agreed to release U.S. aid
contractor Alan Gross, a Cuban who spied for Washington, and 53 people
who the United States considers political prisoners.

So far, the 53 have not been identified and dissident groups say none of
their activists has been released since the Dec. 17 announcement.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis, Nelson Acosta, Rosa Tania Valdés
and Enrique de la Osa in Havana, Francisco Alvarado in Miami; Writing by
Daniel Trotta and Lesley Wroughton.; Editing by David Adams and Ken Wills)

Source: U.S. condemns Cuba's 'practice of repressing' after activists
detained | Reuters -

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