NEW YORK (September 1, 2010) – In order to provide an accurate backdrop with regard to the announcement of the Cuban government’s release and forced exile of 52 political prisoners, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) releases an exclusive video documentary short of the “Ladies in White,” a civil society group inside Cuba that organizes peaceful Sunday marches for freedom and human rights.
The world-renowned group is formed by the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and supporters of political prisoners who were arrested during the “Black Spring” government crackdown on Cuban dissidents. During the four-day period that occurred in March 2003, 75 independent journalists, librarians, and democracy and human rights advocates were arrested and ultimately convicted with sentences ranging from 6 to 28 years.
Currently, 26 of the prisoners have been released and exiled to Spain, while another prisoner was released to the United States for medical treatment. At least five of the prisoners have refused to accept exile, meaning they choose to remain in prison unless they are granted unconditional release and allowed to stay in Cuba.
“The release of these innocent individuals is a welcome development and cause for celebration, but we must remember that the mechanism of repression remains firmly entrenched in Cuba. None of these arrests should ever have been made in the first place,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “It should be made clear that their release does not indicate a reversal of conviction or pardon. These men are still considered treacherous criminals by the Cuban government. If they are allowed to stay in Cuba it shall be with the specter of certain and continuous political persecution and harassment,” he continued.
The Ladies in White have declared that they will continue protesting every Sunday until all of the Black Spring prisoners have been released. In the video, Laura Pollan, spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, relates the history of how the group formed following the Black Spring and discusses recent events that have brought international attention to Cuba’s political prisoners.
“The government states that there's a lot of freedom in Cuba, that it's a paradise,” said Pollan. “I'd invite those people who believe that Cuba is free to come and live here; to come and live here like a regular citizen, without bringing dollars; to come to work, and make what a regular worker makes; to come and live in a humble house, buy their food with a ration book, and express themselves here as much as they do in their own countries against their governments and other individuals, so that they see what the outcome is in Cuba,” she continued.
The Cuban government has been under pressure to release its political prisoners following the February death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who went on a hunger strike to protest Cuba’s treatment of its prisoners. The death of Zapata prompted another dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, to launch his own hunger strike.
“The whole world is awakening and removing its blindfold with regards to Cuba,” said Pollan.
“The prisoners should be allowed to choose for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or leave the country. Those prisoners who have refused a forced exile are courageously willing to sacrifice their own freedom and stand up for freedom of expression for all,” said Halvorssen. “This is a powerful threat to a regime that has held power for 51 years and ruthlessly persecutes its opponents.”
With the release of the 52 political prisoners, Cuba’s criminal code—which allows the “pre-emptive” arrest of an individual before committing any crime—remains unchanged, as do laws allowing for the arrest of anyone writing anything critical of the Cuban government.
“The cyclical release of political prisoners in Cuba is usually followed by the arrest of more dissidents who have committed some kind of ‘thoughtcrime’ or who have done nothing but exercise their right to free speech. Further, there are still an untold number of political prisoners in Cuba’s jails, and Raúl Castro could simply replace these 52 prisoners with another crackdown on Cuba’s opposition voices tomorrow,” said Halvorssen. “Any significant reform involves more than window dressing to obtain European credits or editorial kudos from the foreign media. Why not a full transition to democracy and the respect of basic civil rights and civil liberties?” he added.
In May 2010, HRF also released videos of former prisoner of conscience Armando Valladares and world-renowned blogger Yoani Sánchez in honor of Global Cuba Solidarity Day. The videos were filmed exclusively for the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum and are now available on YouTube.
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Thor Halvorssen, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org