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    Cuba dismisses Amnesty International pressure

    Cuba dismisses Amnesty International pressure
    Wed, 17 Mar 2010 9:32p.m.

    The group Amnesty international appealed to Cuban President
    Raul Castro to release political prisoners and scrap laws that restrict
    fundamental freedoms, using the seventh anniversary of a major crackdown
    on dissent to call for change.

    Amnesty was especially critical of Cuban laws that make vague offenses
    like "dangerousness" a jailable crime. are allowed to arrest
    somebody who has committed no crime if they can show the person has a
    proclivity to be dangerous in the future, Amnesty said.

    "Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to of
    expression, association and assembly," Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy
    director at Amnesty International, said in a statement Tuesday. Howard
    said Cuba "desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the
    country in line with basic international human rights standards".

    The group said it was making the call for change around the anniversary
    of one of Cuba's largest recent crackdowns on dissent – the March 18,
    2003, arrest of some 75 people, including many independent journalists,
    on charges including treason and working for an enemy state.

    Fifty-three of them remain jailed and many have received lengthy sentences.

    The government did not respond to a request for comment on the Amnesty
    report, but routinely dismisses such human rights groups as tools of the

    Cuba's human rights situation has been brought back into the spotlight
    by the February 23 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger
    strike in jail. Another man, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to eat or
    drink since shortly after Zapata Tamayo's death, though he has
    intermittently received fluids and nutrients intravenously at a local

    The European Parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to condemn Cuba
    for Zapata Tamayo's death, which it called "avoidable and cruel". Cuba
    responded quickly, saying it "rejects impositions, intolerance and

    On Tuesday, a leading official group for Cuban intellectuals issued a
    statement calling Zapata Tamayo a common criminal. It denounced
    international criticism as part of a smear campaign against the country,
    and singled out foreign "media corporations and hegemonic interests" as
    leading culprits in what it called a coordinated anti-Cuban effort.

    "We know with what malice and morbidity they distort our reality and lie
    daily about Cuba," the National Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba
    wrote of the foreign media.

    Mexico is the latest country to openly criticise the Cuban government,
    with the Foreign Ministry saying Monday that it regretted the death of
    Zapata Tamayo and was worried about the fate of Farinas.

    "With all due respect to the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba …
    Mexico urges the Cuban government to take the actions necessary to
    protect the and dignity of its prisoners, including those accused
    or convicted of the crime of dangerousness," it said.

    It is not clear what Cuba's small, fractured opposition is planning to
    mark the March 18 anniversary. The , a group of mothers,
    wives and sisters of those jailed in 2003, has declared a week of
    protest including marches, prayer gatherings and the reading of letters
    from their jailed loved ones.

    On Tuesday, dozens of government supporters screamed at the women as
    they marched peacefully in Havana, shouting slogans like "Long live Fidel!"

    Such "acts of repudiation" have become somewhat of a ritual in Cuba. The
    government claims they arise spontaneously as a result of Cubans's
    disgust with dissidents. Others believe that the government organizes
    them and that many of those taking part are members of state security.

    In a statement sure to anger Cuba, Amnesty linked the fate of the
    dissidents and Cuba's overall human rights record to the eventual
    lifting of the 48-year US economic , which Cuba considers an

    "The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise
    of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself," said Howard. "But also
    constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning
    of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo
    against Cuba."

    Cuba has steadfastly refused to link political reform it sees as an
    internal affair with its own demands that the embargo be lifted.

    It denounces the dissidents as common criminals and mercenaries paid by
    Washington to destabilise the country, and insists all nations have the
    right to jail traitors and others seeking to overthrow their government.


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