Cuba: Release of Dissidents Still Leaves Scores in Prison

The plan to release a group of Cuban political prisoners is a positive step, but the Cuban government should release all political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said today. Cuba should also dismantle its authoritarian laws and practices, which continue to deprive Cubans of their most basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Havana announced on July 7, 2010, that the Cuban government would release five political prisoners on the condition that they relocate to Spain with their families, and that an additional 47 political prisoners arrested in 2003 would be released in three to four months.

"While we are relieved for these prisoners and their families, the fact remains that scores of political prisoners locked up under Raul Castro continue to languish in Cuba’s prisons," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "So long as Cuba’s draconian laws and sham trials remain in place, they will continue to restock the prison cells with new generations of innocent Cubans who dare to exercise their basic rights."

The political prisoners expected to be released are among 75 journalists, human rights defenders, labor activists, and other peaceful dissidents arrested in a massive crackdown by the Cuban government in March 2003. All 75 were tried in closed, summary trials that violated their most basic due process rights, and sentenced to an average of 19 years in prison.

Since taking over control of the government from Fidel Castro in July 2006, Raul Castro has incarcerated scores of political prisoners. The government has relied largely on a provision of the Criminal Code that allows authorities to imprison individuals without ever having committed a crime, on the allegation that they are "dangerous" and might commit one in the future. A recent Human Rights Watch report, "New Castro, Same Cuba," documented more than 40 cases of dissidents who have been imprisoned for "dangerousness" under the Raul Castro government, in addition to scores more sentenced for laws criminalizing free expression and association.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), a respected human rights group that is not recognized by the Cuban government, has been able to document 167 cases of current political prisoners. Because Human Rights Watch has been able to document  additional cases of people imprisoned for "dangerousness,"  Human Rights Watch believes the number of political prisoners is even higher.

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