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12/11/02 - CUBAN DISSIDENT DETAINED AGAIN - 2002-12-12

For over forty years, Communist dictator Fidel Castro has done everything in his power to crush political dissent in Cuba. The story of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, leader of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, is a case in point.

On December 6th, Dr. Biscet and twelve other Cuban dissidents were meeting at a private home in Havana. When police arrested other democracy activists who sought to join the meeting, Dr. Biscet selflessly demanded that State Security arrest him as well. Dr. Biscet chanted "Long live human rights," as the police arrested them. Of the twenty individuals arrested by Cuban secret police on December 6, Biscet and four others remain in custody, without charge.

This is not Dr. Biscet's first brush with Cuban authorities. In August, 1999, Dr. Biscet, was arrested along with four other people who had been meeting with him to discuss non-violent resistance to the Castro government's policies. As he was taken into custody, Dr. Biscet was beaten about the face and neck, and his arm was burned with a cigarette. Although the other dissidents were released, Dr. Biscet was thrown into a cell, forced to strip, and beaten again. For two days, he was interrogated and threatened.

After his release, Dr. Biscet continued to criticize the Cuban government. On November 3rd, 1999, he was arrested on charges of "insulting the symbols of the homeland," "public disorder," and "instigation to commit crime." In fact, he was guilty only of exercising his free speech -- a right which the Cuban government claims to respect, but does not, out of fear of the Cuban people. Dr. Biscet had participated in anti-abortion protests, and hung a Cuban flag upside down during one of his press conferences. For this, he was sentenced in February 2000 to three years in prison.

During his imprisonment, Dr. Biscet experienced severe weight loss and other health problems, and was held in solitary confinement for months at a time. He was finally released in late October of this year. After his release, Dr. Biscet went right back to work and began promoting a grassroots project called "Friends of Human Rights", an activity that led to his December 6th arrest.

Relentless persecution is the price Dr. Biscet and many others have paid for trying to promote democratic change in Cuba. The United States will continue to speak out until the Castro regime fully respects the rights of citizens like Dr. Oscar ElĂ­as Biscet. As President George W. Bush said, "Focusing our support on activities that promote democratic values will go a long way toward accelerating the democratic transition of Cuba."