Castro aims for long sentences for 78 dissidents
5 april 2003
(translated back from Dutch)
The Cuban government is making haste these days with the court cases of 78 recently arrested dissidents. It is a clampdown on the Cuban opposition of unprecedented large scale. After years of relative freedom the Fidel Castro regime tries to silence his opponents on the island.
[..] Prosecutors have demanded twelve times life and further prison sentences of between 12 and 25 years. [..]Among the dissidents are many signatories of the Varela Project petition, which has been pleading for more democracy in the communist state since last year. The leader of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Paya, has not been arrested. Among those prosecuted are the economist and human rights activist Martha Beatriz Roque and the poet and journalist Raul Rivero.
"The government has never sentenced so many people at a time for their political conviction, or demanded such draconic punishments", says Elizardo Sanchez, chair of the independent Cuban Human Rights Commission.
Almost all the charges are of treason or high treason. The charges are of breaking Law 88, which was adopted in 1999, and allows for harsh sentences. The law has not been used earlier.
Cause for this judicial campaign was the support the American envoy on Cuba, James Cason, had started to extend to dissident movements ever more openly. [..] The American computers and faxes that the dissidents had been given have been confiscated again. [..]
Apr 8, 10:19 AM EDT
Cuba Condemned for Jailing Dissidents
By ANITA SNOW
Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) -- Human rights activists and the U.S. government condemned Cuba for sentencing critics of the regime to long prison terms in a crackdown [..] Fidel Castro's government sentenced activists, journalists and an economist to up to 27 years in prison Monday for allegedly collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the socialist state.
"We are witnessing the harshest political trials of the past decade," said veteran human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, one of the few leading opponents of the regime not arrested after the crackdown began last month.
Sanchez's non-governmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said prosecutors originally sought life sentences for a dozen of the dissidents, among 80 facing closed trials that began Thursday.
It was unclear how many dissidents have been sentenced so far, but activists have been unable to confirm any life sentences. The shortest sentence was 15 years.
The longest sentence confirmed by Monday was 27 years for independent journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes. A familiar figure in the dissident community, Rodriguez Saludes often rode his bicycle to news conferences, a camera dangling from a strap around his neck.
Opposition political party leader Hector Palacios, among those originally recommended for a life sentence, received 25 years, said his wife, Gisela Delgado.
Palacios is a leading organizer of the Varela Project, which gathered more than 11,000 signatures supporting a referendum on new laws guaranteeing civil liberties such as freedom of speech and private business ownership. The island's parliament shelved the request.
Palacios was among the dissidents who met with former President Jimmy Carter, who visited the island in May and used a live speech to the Cuban people to bluntly describe the country as undemocratic and to publicize the Varela project.
"This is an injustice," Delgado said after learning of her husband's sentence Monday morning. "We are as Cuban as members of the Communist Party." [..]
Jose Miguel Vivanco, of Human Rights Watch, urged the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva to condemn Cuba for the sentences.
In Stockholm, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh warned that the crackdown could hurt Cuba's prospects for more cooperation with the European Union.
"The mass arrests of dissidents that have taken place lately are one more example of the human rights violations being committed in Cuba," Lindh said.
The crackdown, which ended several years of relative tolerance, began when Cuban officials criticized the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, for actively supporting the island's opposition. [..]
Also sentenced Monday was independent journalist Raul Rivero, who received the full 20 years prosecutors sought, said his wife, Blanca Reyes.
"This is a crime for a man who has only written the truth," Reyes said.
Dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe each received 20-year sentences, their relatives said.
Why the crack down now? I can't believe that it's just because all eyes are on Iraq. We haven't had our attention on Cuba for quite some time.