The heavy sentences imposed against non-violent Cuban dissidents are unjustified and draconian, Human Rights Watch said today. Defendants received sentences ranging from twelve to twenty-five years of imprisonment.

"These harsh prison sentences are totally unjustified," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Cuba is flouting fundamental human rights norms."

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, now holding its annual six-week session in Geneva, will be examining the human rights situation in Cuba. Four Latin American countries (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay) have drafted a resolution on Cuba's human rights situation.

Over the past eleven years, the U.N. Commission has passed ten resolutions criticizing Cuba's violations of human rights. The language of this year's resolution is considerably weaker than that of past years, however. Notably, it contains no reference to the nature of the abuses under examination.

"It's perverse that there's a massive crackdown occurring in Cuba just at the moment that the United Nations is examining Cuba's human rights record," said Vivanco. "The Commission must condemn these abuses, and do so strongly and unequivocally."

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least twelve defendants have been sentenced, including Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, age 56; Raul Rivero, age 57; Hector Palacios, age 62; Nelson Molinet Espino; Nelson Alberto Aguilar Rodríguez; Ricardo González; Oscar Espinosa Chepe; Hector Maseda; Oscar Alfonso Valdes; Marcelo Lopez and Marcelo Cano.

Marta Beatriz Roque, an independent economist, received a twenty-year sentence. Roque had previously spent nearly three years in prison for publishing an analytic paper calling for political reforms.

Nelson Molinet Espino and Nelson Alberto Aguiar, two dissidents who were tried together with Beatriz Roque, received twelve-year sentences.

Raul Rivero, a noted poet, writer and independent journalist, received a twenty-year sentence. Other sentenced journalists include Ricardo González Alfonso, who worked as a correspondent for Reporters Sans Frontières, and who received a twenty-year sentence. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an economist, and Hector Maseda Gutierrez, a journalist, also received twenty-year sentences.

Opposition leader Hector Palacios, for whom prosecutors had originally recommended a life sentence, was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment for treason and subversion. Palacios is one of the leaders of the Varela Project, a high-profile reformist effort.

Opposition activist Oscar Alfonso Valdes reportedly received an eighteen-year sentence.

Marcelo Lopez and Marcelo Cano, human rights activists, received eighteen and fifteen year sentences, respectively.

The ongoing trials are the latest development in a massive wave of repression that began on March 18. Approximately 80 people have been arrested and detained since the crackdown began, including prominent dissidents, human rights activists, independent journalists, independent unionists, and directors of independent libraries.

State-run television has accused the detainees of "provocations" and "subversive activities."

One of the ongoing trials is that of Oscar Biscet, a doctor and human rights activist. He was arrested in December 2002, prior to the current crackdown. His arrest came just over a month after his release from prison after serving a three-year-sentence for a peaceful protest. Prosecutors are reportedly demanding a life sentence in his case.

The Cuban courts are using extremely summary procedures in these cases. As a general matter, the courts lack independence and fair procedures. But for the current prosecutions, aggravating these problems, the courts are using a so-called facilitated procedure, which, under articles 479 and 480 of the code of criminal procedure, should be applied only in "exceptional circumstances."