Cuba: Dissidents Imprisoned or Forced into Exile

The document attached updates the information contained in Cuba: Government Crackdown on Dissent, AMR 25/14/96, April 1996, which detailed the recent actions taken by the Cuban Government to prevent members of Concilio Cubano, Cuban Concilium or Cuban Council, a forum of some 140 unofficial groups, including human rights defenders, government opponents, lawyers, journalists, trades unionists, environmentalists and others, from freely exercising their rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression. Concilio Cubano brought together unofficial groups of many kinds, including human rights defenders, political groups and groups of lawyers, journalists, women, trades unionists, ecologists, young people, economists and others. Despite in many cases having requested official recognition, such groups have never been permitted to operate officially although they are not formally banned. As a result of their unofficial status, their members have encountered problems for several years, including frequent intimidation and, in some cases, long-term imprisonment. During 1995 lawyers belonging to the Corriente Agramontista, Agramontist Current, and journalists working with independent press agencies which came together in September 1995 to form the Buró de Periodistas Independientes de Cuba (BPIC), Bureau of Independent Cuban Journalists, were particularly targeted. Lawyers such as Dr René Gómez Manzano and Dr Leonel Morejón Almagro, who went on to become prominent members of Concilio Cubano, were dismissed from their jobs as lawyers ostensibly for disciplinary reasons. However, Amnesty International believes that their dismissals were motivated by their efforts to defend political prisoners and to speak out about human rights and issues relating to the judicial process. Defence counsel in political cases have only limited access both to their clients and official information on the case and usually limit themselves to arguing on technical grounds, either for lack of information or for fear of reprisals. Members of the independent press agencies faced constant short-term detention and harassment during the latter half of 1995. They were threatened with imprisonment on various charges if they did not stop writing articles or leave the country. Rafael Solano, director of Habana Press,was detained on at least eight occasions between July 1995 and February 1996. He was again arrested on 27 February and at the time of writing was being held at State Security headquarters, reportedly awaiting trial on a charge of 'associating with others to commit crimes'. Despite the avowedly peaceful aims of Concilio Cubano, the Cuban authorities immediately began to take action against it. Its members were warned on many occasions while in short-term detention that they could face various charges, including 'illegal association', 'disrespect', 'dangerousness', 'enemy propaganda' and even terrorism and drugs trafficking if they did not give up their activities or leave the country. There was evidence of an orchestrated campaign on the part of the authorities to try to discredit leaders of the coalition and some members were threatened with physical violence or were involved in suspicious traffic accidents, though without serious injury. In December 1995 Concilio Cubano requested official permission to organize a national conference on 24-29 February. No formal response was received although members were told orally that the meeting would not be permitted to go ahead. As the date of the conference drew nearer, the repression intensified even though the coalition decided to postpone it. Between 15 and 24 February, dozens of Concilium members were detained, sometimes on more than one occasion and mostly in Havana. A few were also detained in Villa Clara, Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba. Most were released within a few hours or days. However, Dr Leonel Morejón Almagro, the national delegate of Concilio Cubano, and Lázaro González Valdés, one of the four deputy national delegates, were brought to trial on insubstantial charges of a criminal nature and sentenced to six months' and fourteen months' imprisonment respectively. Amnesty International believes Dr Morejón, Lázaro González and Rafael Solano to be prisoners of conscience and is urging their immediate and unconditional release. As of the beginning of March, at least two other members of Concilio Cubano remained in detention facing possible charges while three others had been released pending trial. The situation of many others remained unclear. Amnesty International believes that any members of Concilio Cubano still in detention are likely to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately unless there is well-founded evidence to indicate that they have committed a recognizable criminal offence. They should be granted full judicial guarantees, including immediate access to a lawyer of their choice. The organization further urges the Cuban Government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations and to guarantee the rights of all Cuban citizens to freely exercise their civil and political rights in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International does not take a position on the political aims of Concilio Cubano but supports the right of its members, and indeed all Cuban citizens, to exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly without undue interference from the Cuban authorities. Since the establishment of Concilio Cubano in October 1995, dozens of people belonging to member groups had been detained for short periods and threatened with imprisonment on various charges if they did not give up their activities or leave the country. The action against them intensified in the ten days prior to 24 February 1996 when Concilio Cubano was planning to hold a national meeting. From 15 February dozens of people were rounded up and the meeting was eventually banned by the authorities. Most were released without charge within a matter of days but others were brought to trial and imprisoned, released to await trial or forced into exile. Short-term detentions, harassment and intimidation have continued since March 1996. At least four members of Concilio Cubano remain imprisoned and are considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience: Dr Leonel Morejón Almagro, a lawyer and the National Delegate of Concilio Cubano, who is serving a fifteen-month sentence for 'resisting authority' and 'disrespect'; Lázaro González Valdés, national vice-delegate of Concilio Cubano and the president of the Partido Pro Derechos Humanos en Cuba (PPDHC), Party for Human Rights in Cuba, who is serving a fourteen-month sentence on the same charges; Juan Francisco Monzón Oviedo, an alternate member of the coordinating body of Concilio Cubano and the president of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano, Christian Democratic Party, sentenced to six months' imprisonment for 'illegal association'; and Roberto López Montañéz, a member of the executive of two groups belonging to Concilio Cubano, who, despite having serious heart problems, is serving a sentence of one year and three months on charges of 'disrespect' and 'falsifying documents'. Another prominent member of Concilio Cubano, Eugenio Rodríguez Chaple, has been forced into exile and at least two others, Mercedes Paradas Antunes and Alberto Perera Martínez - are believed to be pending trial on various charges if they do not leave the country. Amnesty International is particularly concerned at what appears to be a deliberate policy and new tactic on the part of the authorities to force dissidents into exile abroad, without the right of return, by threatening them with imprisonment if they do not do so. It contravenes article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and effectively prevents those concerned from being able to act in public life in their own country. As well as Eugenio Rodríguez Chaple, this has also happened in the case of two independent journalists - Rafael Solano and Roxana Valdivia Castilla. Many others, both journalists and members of Concilio Cubano, are reported to be considering their options after being subjected to persistent harassment of various kinds and threatened with prison terms if they do not halt their activities. Those who choose to emigrate or to flee Cuba without permission are not normally permitted to return. In other cases those who leave legally but while abroad criticize the Cuban Government or undertake activities not to the government's liking are sometimes prevented from returning, as in the case of former prisoner of conscience and journalist Yndamiro Restano Díaz. Forcible exile is not a new phenomenon in Cuba. For many years the authorities have granted early release to political prisoners but only on condition they leave the country. In August 1994, when thousands of 'rafters' were briefly permitted to leave, Amnesty International received reports that some dissidents were strongly encouraged to take the opportunity to leave or even physically forced to do so. Amnesty International has also become aware of the use of 'destierro', confinement or internal exile, as a means to punish dissidents. In recent months three independent journalists have been ordered, apparently by the police, not to leave their home provinces. In another case, two members of a group advocating university reform, also part of Concilio Cubano, were recently tried for 'disrespect' and 'resisting authority' and sentenced by a Havana court to confinement in their home towns in Eastern Cuba for a period of five years as well as 'restricted liberty' for a much shorter period. They are believed to be appealing against the sentence. Both were also reportedly ill-treated while in detention and again in court when they attempted to complain about their treatment. Amnesty International is calling on the Cuban authorities to release the four prisoners of conscience named above; to guarantee to all Cuban citizens their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; to cease to imprison, confine or force into exile those who attempt to peacefully exercise such rights; to permit independent journalists to carry out their legitimate work without interference; to cease arbitrarily preventing Cubans from exercising their right to return to their country and, in particular, to allow Yndamiro Restano Díaz to return to Cuba without risk of imprisonment or other reprisals, should they wish to do so; and to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations.

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