Cuba’s authorities this week released ten political prisoners, including a dissident nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But the well-publicized gesture has distracted attention from the regime’s growing crackdown on the island’s democracy advocates.
“Hundreds of pro-democracy activists have suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest in recent weeks as the Cuban government employs new tactics to stamp out dissent,” according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
In a pre-emptive strike last month, the authorities arrested over one hundred activists planning to commemorate the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the banned but officially tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports.
“The release of those detained in the 2003 crackdown is a hugely positive step but it tells only one side of the story facing Cuban human rights activists,” said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty. “Those living on the island are still being targeted for their work, especially through short-term detentions, while repressive laws give the Cuban authorities a free rein to punish anyone who criticizes them.”
The Nobel-nominated Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez (above) was among those political prisoners released this week. Arrested alongside 74 other democracy advocates in the Black Spring crackdown of March 2003, he led the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights and the “Friends of Human Rights” group in Cuba, according to Freedom Now, a U.S.-based rights group.
Few of the Black Spring cohort remain in jail, but most of the freed activists have been forced into exile.
Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church yesterday reported that Ricardo Librado Linares – one of the three – is to be released.
Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina (right), the head of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, was recently declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty after being detained without trial for over three months.
“This is a victory for all the Cuban people — those who are in exile or in Cuba, those who are inside jails or those who are supposedly free on the streets of Cuba,” said dissident Guillermo Farinas.
It was his 135-day hunger strike to protest the regime’s treatment of political prisoners that led to the last year’s spate of releases following negotiations between the Communist authorities, the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government.
Jared Genser, the president of Freedom Now, was a 2006-2007 Visiting Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group