News and Facts about Cuba

Cuban dissidents offered political asylum

Cuban dissidents offered political asylum
Schwarzenberg calls for democracy activists to be released
Posted: September 1, 2010
By Cat Contiguglia – Staff Writer

The Czech Republic has offered asylum to 10 Cuban dissidents and their
families.

In early July, the Spanish Foreign Ministry and the Catholic Church
negotiated the release of 52 of 75 prisoners who were sentenced to 28
years in during a 2003 government crackdown on dissent. So far,
26 have been released, and six more are expected to be in the coming
days, said Matteo de Bellis, a campaigner for Amnesty International's
Americas program.

The final 20 are slated for release within the next few months.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ji?í Beneš said it is still unknown
if any of the dissidents will accept the offer, which was made after
consulting with the Interior Ministry at the end of July.

"We are awaiting the response from the Cuban side," Beneš said. "The
Czech Republic's long-term policy is to address the issues
in Cuba."

De Bellis said the first batch of prisoners was released to , where
almost all have stayed, but they may be granted residence visas in other
countries. However, Amnesty International and the Foreign Affairs
Ministry have expressed concern that the dissidents are not being given
the option to remain in Cuba, which constitutes a "violation of their
right to of movement," de Bellis said.

"It's absolutely necessary that all the political prisoners be released,
and at the same time it is equally important that they could have made
the free choice of whether to stay in Cuba or make use of one of the
offers to live abroad and start a new life abroad," Foreign Affairs
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said.

This is the first time the Czech Republic has made an asylum offer to
Cuban dissidents.

The government crackdown that led to the dissidents' imprisonment,
called "Black Spring," was a massive internment of journalists,
librarians, human rights activists and democracy activists who were
accused of acting as agents of the United States by 's
regime in 2003. Negotiations for the release of the prisoners, which
have taken place under the rule of Fidel's brother , followed
a four-month hunger strike by Guillermo Farinas, de Bellis said.

"They have been imprisoned solely for acts relating to their criticism
of the one-party state," de Bellis said. "The definition of several
crimes in Cuban legislation is so vague that it allows them to be used
to curb dissent by a judiciary that is neither independent nor impartial."

Amnesty has termed the dissidents "prisoners of conscience," meaning
they were imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their human rights, de
Bellis said.

The initially set sanctions against Cuba after the 2003
crackdown, but allowed them to lapse in 2008. Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Angel Moratinos is touting the more conciliatory approach taken
by Spain toward Cuba, citing the release of prisoners, and has called on
other countries to soften their stance on Cuba. However, as reported
by The Prague Post, Schwarzenberg rejected such calls earlier this
month. Schwarzenberg was expelled from Cuba in 2005 for attending a
pro-democracy conference organized by dissidents.

De Bellis said there are a number of prisoners of conscience still not
part of the release plan, including Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez,
in 2003 for publishing articles that contained "misleading"
information about Cuba and for being linked to media outlets in Miami.

Gutiérrez writes from prison, and in 2008 he was awarded the
International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

– Klára Ji?i?ná contributed to this report.

http://www.praguepost.com/news/5574-cuban-dissidents-offered-political-asylum.html

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