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    Cuba group wants parole for 69 ‘political’ inmates

    Posted on Thursday, 08.05.10
    Cuba group wants parole for 69 'political' inmates
    Associated Press Writer

    HAVANA — Cuba's leading domestic human rights group called on the
    government Thursday to release 69 inmates it says are being held for
    political reasons, arguing that they should be eligible for parole after
    serving at least half their sentences.

    The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation
    acknowledged that at least 43 of those were convicted of violent crimes
    - including murder, shootings and boat hijackings – but said it
    considers them political prisoners anyway.

    At least seven, meanwhile, were convicted of "pre-criminal
    dangerousness," a charge that can apply to things such as publicly
    insulting Fidel Castro or holding peaceful street marches.

    The commission's statement comes after a recent analysis by The
    Associated Press revealed that many of those on its political prisoners
    list would not fit traditional international definitions of prisoners of

    Who exactly is a political prisoner, who is not, and who is doing the
    counting are issues that have intensified since July 7, when the
    government promised Roman Catholic Church officials it would release 52
    political prisoners.

    So far, authorities have freed 20 and packed them off to Spain with
    their families. The remaining releases are expected to take months, and
    it's unclear if those freed subsequently will be allowed to remain in
    Cuba or sent into exile.

    If the deal holds, it would empty prisons of all of the 75 leading
    opposition activists who were rounded up and sentenced to lengthy prison
    terms in March 2003 – a crackdown known in human rights circles as the
    "Black Spring."

    But while the number of inmates held for political reasons is already at
    a historic low since Castro took power in 1959, the government's pledge
    to the church does not go far enough for the commission, which says
    about 101 will remain jailed for political reasons.

    Of those, 69 have served at least half of their sentences and should be
    paroled immediately, according to commission director Elizardo Sanchez.
    He said in a statement that all 69 have been "classified
    extra-judicially as 'counterrevolutionary prisoners.'"

    The Cuban government had no comment Thursday, and generally dismisses
    those who publicly criticize its communist system as paid agents of
    Washington and anti-Castro groups in Florida.

    Indeed, President Raul Castro made it clear that the prisoner release it
    promised the church would not be a sign of more leniency toward
    opposition groups in the future, telling parliament last weekend, "There
    will not be impunity for the enemies of the homeland."

    Authorities tolerate no organized opposition and refuse to recognize the
    commission, but they largely allow it to operate out of Sanchez's home
    in Havana.

    Sanchez, himself a former political prisoner, compiles a biannual list
    of Cubans held for their political beliefs that is cited by human rights
    groups worldwide. Still, getting everyone to agree on just who is a
    political prisoner is impossible.

    Cuba says it holds none. If all 52 inmates covered by the church
    agreement are released, Amnesty International would count just one
    remaining "prisoner of conscience:" attorney Rolando Jimenez, who is
    among the 69 that Sanchez's group says ought to be paroled.

    New York-based Human Rights Watch, by contrast, fears "hundreds" of
    jailed Cubans are actually political prisoners.


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