Monday, July 12, 2010

Cuba dissidents leave for Spain

The first six of 52 political prisoners in Cuba to be freed have left the country to start a new life as Cuban exiles in Spain.
The releases on Monday come as a result of a deal between the Cuban government and Catholic Church officials, in which it was agreed that at least 17 jailed dissidents would be granted asylum in Spain.
The 17 are among a group of 52 jailed opposition leaders, journalists and activists the Cuban government has agreed to release, following a meeting on Wednesday between Raul Castro, Cuba's president, and Jaime Ortega, a Roman Catholic cardinal.
Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, 24, one of the prisoners released on Monday, called from an Air Europa jet to Madrid as it was taking off from the Havana airport to confirm the departure for the news agency Reuters.
He also said five more prisoners were scheduled to leave Havana on a later flight on Monday in the first wave of Cuba's biggest release of jailed dissidents since 1998.
"You can imagine how a man in prison for seven years, including 17 months in solitary, must feel," Garcia said of his new freedom.
Lengthy jail terms
The prisoners were accompanied by members of their family, Garcia said. All of them were kept away from reporters at the Havana airport.
The detainees were among 75 political dissidents arrested in a 2003 government crackdown that resulted in lengthy prison terms on treason and other charges.
They have been serving sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years for violations of Cuban laws aimed at curbing opposition, and what the government views as subversive activities.
The Catholic Church has taken an increasingly public role in relations between the government and the opposition since the death of a jailed dissident hunger striker in February.
Church officials announced on Thursday the names of the first five prisoners to be released, and said all had accepted asylum in Spain, as did those on the list of the other 12 announced on Saturday.
Parties reticent
Neither the church nor the Cuban government has said whether agreeing to exile is a requirement of release, with Ortega describing exile as an "option".
The meeting was brokered by Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister.
While the government's promise to release prisoners has raised hopes on the island, praise from outside has been grudging, particularly from human rights groups and the US.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, praised the development on Thursday, but described the releases as "overdue".
Amnesty International, the UK-based human-rights group, said it would continue to campaign for all of Cuba's prisoners of conscience to be freed and sent home immediately.

From: Aljazeera

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