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Defending Human Rights
Cuba harshly repressed domestic human rights defenders in 1998. The government maintained a steady campaign of surveillance, phone interruption, and other intimidations. The government took firm steps to silence human rights critics, including the four leaders of the GTDI, who had called for the release of political prisoners and faced trial for sedition, and Reynaldo Alfaro García, who had denounced prison abuses and received a three-year sentence for spreading false news. Prisoners who spoke out against abuses faced physical violence and other punishments.

On March 12, 1998, a Cienfuegos court found five members of the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba (Partido Pro Derechos Humanos de Cuba, PPDH), Israel García Hidalgo, Benito Fojaco Iser, Angel Nicolás Gonzalo, José Ramón López Filgueira, and Reynaldo Sardiñas Delgado, guilty of other acts committed against state security ( otras actas contra la seguridad del estado ). Police had arrested them in October 1997. The tribunal sentenced García Hidalgo and Fojaco Iser to two years in prison, while López Filgueira received a one-year sentence. Sixty-nine-year-old Gonzalo and sixty-six-year-old Sardiñas Delgado both received one-year sentences to labor camps without internment.

In December 1997 Cuban police arrested Daula Carpio Mata, the PPDH leader in Villa Clara, and imprisoned her in the Guamajal Prison. In October 1997, she had received a lighter sentence to a work camp for “resistance,” due to her defending a colleague at a prior trial. A Villa Clara court had also tried ten other members of the PPDH in October 1997, convicting them of association to commit criminal acts (asociaci ó n para delinquir ) and “disobedience.” In early 1998, in apparent retaliation for prolonged hunger strikes that drew the attention of the international press covering the pope’s visit, local authorities imprisoned several of the activists who previously had received non-custodial sentences.

In February 1998, Dr. Oscar Elías Bicest González, a leader of the Lawton Human Rights Foundation, publicly stated his opposition to abortion and the death penalty. In early March, the provincial director of public health fired Dr. Bicest González and notified him that he would be evicted. His wife, nurse Elsa Morejón Hernández, lost her job a few days later. On June 9, the doctor sent a letter to the Council of State expressing his opposition to the death penalty. Police arrested him on July 9, holding him and Rolando Muñóz Yyobre, a foundation colleague, for two weeks.

The Cuban government barred regular access to its prisons by domestic and international human rights and humanitarian monitors. The government last permitted the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), which visited prisoners in custody for political and security offenses, to conduct prison visits in Cuba in 1989. The Cuban government had not allowed Human Rights Watch to return to Cuba since 1995. Cuba never allowed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cuba to enterthe country.













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