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Cuban Repression Worsens

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Cuban government's crackdown on civil society. In March 2003, seventy-five independent thinkers, journalists, librarians, and academics were arrested. They were sentenced to as many as twenty-five years in prison for exercising their fundamental rights. Four years later, fifty-nine of the seventy-five remain behind bars.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental, an independent news agency, is reportedly regularly beaten by the guards at Kilo Eight prison in the city of Camagüey. Along with seventeen other detainees, he began a hunger strike on March 7th to protest prison conditions and draw attention to his poor state of health and that of fellow prisoners Alfredo Manuel Pulido López and Normando Hernández González. Mr. Hernández has tuberculosis but is not receiving the necessary treatment.

Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez, the co-founder of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, was transferred from prison to a hospital where he was to be operated on. Although extremely weak, he was left in a punishment cell for three hours and then shackled for the transfer.

Ricardo González Alfonso, the editor of the magazine De Cuba and Reporters Without Borders’ Cuba correspondent, is in the recovery ward at Havana’s Combinado del Este prison, after undergoing three operations in December 2005. He is serving a twenty-year sentence handed down in 2003.

Ramón Velázquez Toranso of the Libertad news agency was transferred to a forced-labor camp on March 3rd. He is serving a three-year sentence for being a so-called “pre-criminal social danger.”

The human rights situation in Cuba has gotten worse since an ailing Fidel Castro transferred power to his brother Raul in July 2006. "It is time for Cuban authorities," said U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, "to stop the cycle of repression, to end the practices of holding political prisoners, and to release all political prisoners to their homes and families."