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(New York) - The European Parliament's award of its Sakharov prize for human rights to Guillermo Fariñas, the Cuban dissident who held a hunger strike to call for the release of other political prisoners, is a welcome step, Human Rights Watch said today. Since Fariñas ended his 135-day hunger strike, Cuba has released more than 40 political prisoners, forcing most into exile in Spain.

Human Rights Watch urges Cuba to unconditionally release all political prisoners and to respect their fundamental rights, including their right to remain in Cuba if they wish. Cuba should also reform its repressive laws, such as the "dangerousness" statute, which allow the government to criminalize all forms of dissent.

Raul Castro's government should allow Fariñas to travel to Europe to accept the prize, as well as belatedly permit the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), who were awarded the Sakharov prize in 2005, to travel to accept their prize, a right that has been denied to them.

"Fariñas's hunger strike made it impossible for the world to ignore the dissidents imprisoned in Cuba," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "The Sakharov prize highlights Cuba's responsibility to free every last political prisoner and dismantle the laws that punish dissent."

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