Friday, August 28, 2015

Ahead of papal visit, Cuba's Women in White fear government crackdown

Ahead of papal visit, Cuba's Women in White fear government crackdown

Havana, Cuba, Aug 27, 2015 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- The leader of a human
rights group is concerned that the Cuban government will repeat its 2012
crackdown on opposition activists when Pope Francis visits the nation
next month.

During Pope Benedict XVI's visit three years ago, Cuban officials made
arrests and took other actions to keep the dissidents from communicating
with each other, said Berta Soler, leader of Women in White, a group of
wives and other relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.

"We're really worried," Soler told CNA last week. "When Pope Benedict
XVI came to Cuba they shut down telephone lines in an area of some 15 to
25 miles. They did the same to the cell phones of human rights activists
and their close relatives."

She said the government put them under surveillance three days before
Pope Benedict's arrival.

"Cuban officials began arresting all the human rights activists so we
couldn't participate in the Masses the Pope celebrated in Santiago de
Cuba and Havana."

Pope Francis will visit Cuba Sept. 19-22.

"We're waiting (to see what will happen), we're thinking the same thing
is going to happen when the Holy Father Pope Francis comes," Soler said.

Nevertheless, she stated that Women in White as well as other human
rights activists will try to go to the Masses because "we want to be
close to the Holy Father." She said they know that they're going to be

Soler met with Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Square in May 2013 and sent
a letter to the pontiff through the nunciature and through friends. She
asked the Pope: "When you come to Cuba could you listen to us even for a
few minutes?"

The dissident leader reported arrests of the Women in White and other
opposition activists on recent Sundays.

"We've been going out now (to march) for 18 Sundays and we can take it
for granted that the Castro regime is going to come after the Women in
White and the human rights activists on Sunday, Aug. 23rd… because we're
deep into our #TodosMarchamos (We're all marching) campaign to free the
political prisoners."

She said that the Castro government is assembling "paramilitary mobs
organized and financed by (the regime) to physically and verbally attack
us." National police and state security agents are also involved.

According to Soler, at present "there are about 80 political prisoners
and 42 who are only technically released or on parole." The latter 42
could be arrested again and sent back to prison without trial at any moment.

On Sunday Aug. 16 more than 60 human rights activists along with some
Women in White were restrained and arrested as they were marching after
Mass at Saint Rita's Church in Havana.

As expected, over 50 human rights activists and members of the Women in
White were arrested in Havana on Sunday, Aug. 23 at the end of their
protest march. Soler told the newspaper Martí News that excessive force
was used in some arrests. Those detained were released five hours later
in different parts of the city.

Some were released near nightfall in uninhabited areas where they were
at risk of violence or assault, Soler charged.

Source: Ahead of papal visit, Cuba's Women in White fear government
crackdown :: Catholic News Agency (CNA) -

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