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Cuba: Czechs Reportedly Charged

Human Rights Watch called on the Cuban authorities to release two prominent Czech citizens who have been held in detention since January 12.

The Cuban Criminal Code contains a very broad definition of "rebellion" that criminalizes a whole host of legitimate activities. The code's catch-all provision of "other acts against state security" is also designed to allow politically-motivated prosecutions that violate defendants' basic rights to free expression and association.

"The case of these Czech citizens shows just how flawed the Cuban Criminal Code is," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division. "Cuban laws provide cover for all kinds of human rights abuse."

Pilip, a former finance minister and current member of the lower house of the Czech parliament, and Bubenik, a former student leader, entered Cuba on January 8. On January 11, Pilip and Bubenik met with two independent journalists in the province of Ciego de Avila, Antonio Femen?s Echemend? and Roberto Valdivia Hern?dez, and were arrested the following day. The two Cuban journalists released a statement not long after the Czechs' arrest saying that they had met with Pilip and Bubenik to discuss the political, economic and social situation of their respective countries.

The Cuban authorities have become increasingly hostile toward the Czech Republic, particularly since the latter country began co-sponsoring a U.N. resolution condemning human rights abuses in Cuba. Relations between the two countries began to deteriorate with the fall of communism in then-Czechoslakia in late 1989, and the rise to power of former dissidents like Czech President Vaclav Havel. In 2000, the second straight year that the Czech Republic sponsored the Cuba resolution of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Cubans reacted by holding a 100,000-strong demonstration outside the Czech Embassy in Havana. Another session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights begins this year on March 19 in Geneva.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, published an article on January 16 acknowledging that the two Czechs had been detained. The article made note of "the infamous accusations [made] against Cuba in the Human Rights Commission," asserting that the Czech authorities should offer its apologies to Cuba. It also accused the two Czechs of visiting Ciego de Avila in order to "make subversive contacts with members of counterrevolutionary groupuscules."

The crime of "rebellion" (rebeli?, article 98 of the Cuban Criminal Code) is punishable by seven to fifteen years' imprisonment, while that of "other acts against the state security" (otros actos contra la seguridad del estado, article 125 of the Cuban Criminal Code) is reportedly punishable by up to twenty years' imprisonment.

Cuba's Repressive Machinery, Human Rights Watch's 1999 report on Cuba's legal system, offers a detailed analysis of Cuba's criminal code and procedures. The report describes how Cuban law unabashedly criminalizes nonviolent political dissent. Among other cases, it relates the prosecution of prominent dissidents Vladimiro Roca Ant?ez, Marta Beatriz Roque, Felix Bonne Carcas? and Ren?G?ez Manzano, who were convicted in March 1999 of "other acts against state security" related to incitement of sedition, receiving sentences ranging from three-and-a-half years to five years in prison.

Reliable local human rights groups estimate that hundreds of Cubans are currently behind bars for exercising basic rights of free expression, association or assembly.

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