Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cuban dissidents stand trial

"Secret trials in Cuba criticized; Two Cuban dissidents went before secret trials this month as one of the island's longest-serving political prisoners was released. CUBA
Source: The Miami Herald 04/24/2007

A Cuban dissident was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the second secret trial in less than a week, while a third government opponent was freed after completing a 17-year sentence.

Lawyer Rolando Jiménez Posada's 12-year sentence came as one of the island's longest-serving political prisoners, Jorge Luís García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was released after serving a sentence marked by hunger strikes, allegations of beatings and a bold escape.

Last week, independent journalist Oscar Sánchez Madan was sentenced to four years in prison, after being arrested, tried and convicted all in the same day -- and also without a defense lawyer present.
''Those kinds of things only happen with an order from up top,'' said Manuel Vázquez Portal, a former political prisoner who now lives in South Florida. ``What I think is that after Fidel Castro's apparent recovery [from intestinal surgery] the government feels reborn and is taking measures in the name of that recovery.

''There's quite a contrast in having two secret trials in one week, which show a tightening of political repressiveness, and this good news about Antúnez,'' said Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
''This is a step back to the early days of the revolution, when there were summary trials and executions,'' Sánchez said in a phone interview from Havana.

Jiménez, 36, is a lawyer who ran the Human Rights Center on the Isle of Youth. After hanging a sign outside his home in the town of Nueva Gerona that quoted Jose Martí daring people to think independently, he was arrested in the spring of 2003 and held without trial for four years.

Sánchez said Monday he just learned that Jiménez was tried April 6 on charges of ''disrespecting'' leader Fidel Castro, revealing state secrets and illegally printing and writing anti-government posters and graffiti.

The family was not notified of his trial date, and when Jiménez protested the lack of defense counsel, he was tossed out of the courtroom and not allowed to represent himself, Sánchez added.
''We're not just talking about a closed-door trial; we're talking about a secret trial,'' he said. ``In my 20 years doing this kind of work, I can tell you I have seen very, very few secret trials. I have been tried twice, and both times I had my family and a lawyer -- a lawyer who works for the state and could do nothing, but there he was, representing me.''
Vázquez said he believes secret trials have been taking place all along, and that it's just now that human rights groups are learning of them.

'They're trying to say: `Not only are we not going to release political prisoners, but we're going to put a few more in jail, and there's nothing you can do about it.' ''
Antúnez, 42, a former sugar cane cutter jailed for speaking in favor of reforms at a public plaza, served his 17-year sentence, plus another 37 days. He was released Sunday.
Antúnez's public act of defiance got him a six-year prison sentence. Two years later, he broke out of prison to see his terminally ill mother before she died. His brief escape cost him another 11 years in prison. His mother died while he was in prison.

Antúnez's time behind bars was marked by failing health, allegations of beatings by state security agents and a series of hunger strikes to protest prison conditions. In 2000, human rights activists reported that he'd grown so frail that he was down to 100 pounds.

''The path has been hard, but already the air of freedom is barely visible on the horizon,'' Antúnez said in a statement released by the Cuban Democratic Directorate, an anti-Castro exile organization. ``I am more committed to the struggle, I am more committed to the cause for which I was sent to prison. My body, soul and heart will always be at the service of Cuba and my people.''
``Nothing or nobody will make us waver.''

While jailed, he founded a political prisoner movement named after Luis Boitel, a dissident who died in 1972 of a hunger strike he began when he wasn't released after serving his sentence. Antúnez also penned a jailhouse memoir, Boitel Lives, published in Argentina.

''He's very brave,'' said Janisset Rivero, executive director of the Democratic Directorate. ``I spoke to him yesterday. The first thing he said was: `There are a lot of people suffering in prison, and we have to get them out.'''

There are 280 political prisoners currently being held in Cuba, according to Sánchez's commission. "

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