Cuba frees prisoners of conscience
23 March 2011
Amnesty International has urged the Cuban authorities not to force activists into exile after the final two activists from a group of 75 detained in March 2003 were freed.
José Ferrer and Félix Navarro were released early on Wednesday. They were each serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The men are among 52 released in a deal struck after talks between the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban President Raul Castro last July.
Some of those released have stayed in Cuba serving the remainder of their sentences outside prison while others have been forced into exile to Spain.
"It is a step in the right direction for human rights in Cuba to see the release of all prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown and another detained last December, particularly considering they should have never been imprisoned in the first place," said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty International.
"What we want to see now is for the Cuban authorities not to force activists into exile as a condition for their release and to ensure all human rights activists are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of threats, harassment, further arrests or unfair trials in their own country."
Seventy-five people were jailed in a massive crackdown against the dissident movement around 18 March 2003 for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Most of them were charged with crimes including “acts against the independence of the state” because they allegedly received funds and/or materials from US-based NGOs financed by the US government.
They were sentenced to between six and 28 years in prison after speedy and unfair trials for engaging in activities the authorities perceived as subversive and damaging to Cuba.
Prisoner of conscience Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina was arrested on 9 December 2010 and has yet to be brought to trial. He is set to be released in the upcoming days on condition of leaving Cuba into exile.
Repression of Cuban dissidents persists despite releases (News, 16 March 2011)
Cuba must release prisoner of conscience on hunger strike (News story, 11 March 2011)
Cuba urged to release jailed activists (News story, 7 February 2011)