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5/23/04 - MORE CUBAN DISSIDENTS SENTENCED - 2004-05-24


Cuba held its third trial of dissidents in less than a month and sentenced three people to three years each in prison. Their only crime was participating in a human rights meeting. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Raul Arencibia Fajardo and Virgilio Marante Guelmes were convicted in a one-day sham trial of contempt for authority, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.

The arrests occurred in December 2002, while the Cuban dissidents were meeting in a private home in Havana to study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Leading activist Oscar Elias Biscet, a physician, was arrested in the same incident. He is serving a twenty-five-year prison term.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says this trial comes after others earlier this month in which ten opposition members and civil society activists were sentenced for up to seven years on trumped-up charges:

“These actions are yet another indication of the efforts by the [Fidel] Castro regime to clamp down on anybody who dares exercise their fundamental human rights or criticize in any way those who are in power. They are indicative of how Castro has isolated himself and has gained the opprobrium of the international community.”

Last year, Cuba’s Communist regime launched a massive crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Scores of journalists, economists, and reformers were detained in a series of targeted sweeps. Some were released, but seventy-five were subjected to unfair trials and sentenced to prison terms as long as twenty-eight years. Their only crime, says President George W. Bush, was calling for freedom and dignity for the Cuban people:

“Their crimes were to publish newspapers, to organize petition drives, to meet to discuss the future of their country. Cuba’s political prisoners [were] subjected to beatings, and solitary confinement, and the denial of medical treatment.”

All Cuban people should be able to organize, assemble, publish, and speak freely. “Through our democratic example,” says President Bush, “we must continue to stand with the brave people of Cuba, who for nearly half a century have endured the tyrannies and repression. Dictatorship has no place in the Americas.”

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