The Cuban government should follow the release of three dissidents by freeing other political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said today. The three dissidents were granted parole and released from prison this morning.
“Cuba’s release of these political prisoners is a welcome move, but many more remain incarcerated in violation of their fundamental rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “We call on the Cuban authorities to release all of them.”
The freed dissidents — Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Marcelo Manuel López Bañobre, and Margarito Broche Espinosa — were prosecuted in April 2003 in a mass political crackdown. The prison sentences they received ranged from 15 to 25 years.
Seventy-five defendants were tried and convicted during the April 2003 crackdown, none were acquitted. The defendants were charged with “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state,” and of supporting U.S. policy against Cuba. They were tried under a so-called facilitated procedure, which, under articles 479 and 480 of Cuba’s code of criminal procedure, is supposed to be applied only in “exceptional circumstances.”
In terms of due process, the April 2003 trials were a sham. Defendants in many cases did not see their lawyers before trial, and lawyers had only the most limited time to prepare a defense. Trials were closed to outside observers.
Over the past several months, the Cuban authorities have freed seven of the 75 dissidents on health grounds. The current releases mean that some 65 of the 75 remain incarcerated, including Raul Rivero, a prominent poet and journalist who is serving a 20-year sentence.
Human Rights Watch regretted the fact that the dissidents were released on parole (licencia extrapenal) rather than being released unconditionally.
“By granting them parole only, the Cuban government leaves open the possibility of returning the dissidents to prison to serve out their sentences in the future,” said Vivanco. “It’s a way of intimidating them from exercising their fundamental rights.”
Even with the recent series of prisoner releases, other dissidents continue to be tried and sentenced for their legitimate political activities. In September the head of the Cuban Human Rights Party (Partido Pro Derechos Humanos de Cuba), René Montes de Oca was sentenced to eight months in prison for the crime of “insult to authority” (desacato).
The following prisoners are believed to have been released this morning:
- Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an independent journalist and former Cuban government economist, was serving a 20-year sentence.
- Marcelo Manuel López Bañobre, a member of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional), was serving a 15-year sentence.
- Margarito Broche Espinosa, the founder of the National Association of Rafters (Asociación Nacional de Balseros), based in north-central Cuba, was serving a 25-year sentence.