Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Cuban opposition activist alleges police brutality | Reuters

Cuban opposition activist alleges police brutality

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A Cuban opposition activist said on Tuesday he was beaten and burned with a cigarette when police detained him over the weekend at a provincial station.

Oscar Elias Biscet, head of the illegal rights' group Lawton Foundation, was among more than 20 Cuban dissidents temporarily rounded up by security forces over the weekend trying to organise two opposition meetings in Havana and Matanzas province, according to dissident sources.

All were freed by Monday night in what appears to have been temporary arrests intended to prevent disturbances and protests against President Fidel Castro's government.

Biscet, the last to be released, said Tuesday that he was mistreated by police after being picked up in Pedro Betancourt, a small town in Matanzas, and taken to a station in the nearby town of Jovellanos.

He told reporters he was beaten about the face and shoulders, kicked in the ankles, burnt with a cigarette on his elbow, forced to strip naked, and threatened with a longer detention if he continued his opposition activities.

Speaking at a house in the run-down La Vibora neighbourhood of Havana, Biscet said he was arrested Saturday afternoon in Pedro Betancourt while visiting dissidents there who took part in a recent protest fast in support of political prisoners.

``I am a defender of human rights, and my activities will continue until the Cuban people achieve their rights and their freedom,'' he added.

No Cuban officials were available to comment on Biscet's accusations.

But Havana routinely dismisses such activists as ``counter- revolutionary'' trouble-makers seeking publicity, operating under orders of the U.S. government or anti-Castro exile groups in Florida, and lacking in any popular support.

The government also frequently criticises foreign correspondents in Cuba for allegedly encouraging dissidents by covering their activities.

Biscet, who advocates a civil disobedience campaign against Castro's government and in favour of democratic reforms, has been criticised by some sectors of Cuba's small and fragmented opposition for seeking excessive personal protagonism.

He said the alleged violence against him, and the round-up of other dissidents, might have been a response to the supposed appearance of anti-Castro propaganda last week in a Havana district where his group often operates.

Biscet's case was supported by the Miami-based exile group, the Democracy Movement, who issued a statement also detailing the alleged police violence against him.

``Although we welcome the release of Oscar Elias Biscet by the Cuban government, it's our position that he and the others should not have been detained in the first place as they were only engaging in exercising non-violent and universally recognised rights and activities,'' the statement added.

12:51 08-17-99

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited