For Immediate Release: March 18, 2008
NEW YORK— On the fifth anniversary of a notorious crackdown by the Cuban government resulting in the imprisonment of 75 human rights activists, Human Rights First called for the release of the 55 prisoners remaining in jail, several of whom are critically ill.
In the spring of 2003, the Cuban government sentenced the human rights defenders, independent journalists, and librarians to prison terms of up to 28 years in grossly unfair trials. These prosecutions marked the broadest backlash against non-violent dissent that the island had seen in years.
“It is time for Cuba to release these prisoners immediately and without conditions,” said Matt Easton, director of the Human Rights Defenders program at Human Rights First. “The world is waiting to see whether Cuba is really ready for change, or only going through the motions.”
Last month, Raúl Castro assumed the presidency when his brother Fidel stepped down after nearly 50 years in power. Since the handover, Cuba has taken a preliminary step towards greater respect for human rights by signing two international treaties that will obligate the island nation to uphold a wide range of economic, social, and political rights.
“Cuba’s decision to commit publicly to human rights principles is welcome, but the continued imprisonment of these activists says much more about Cuba’s intentions than the signing of any documents,” said Easton.
Many of those remaining in jail suffer from poor health, exacerbated by extreme conditions in the prisons and inadequate medical treatment.
Since 2003, Human Rights First’s supporters have sent thousands of appeals to the Cuban authorities calling for the release of the prisoners. To date, twenty have been released for medical parole or similar reasons. However, because the releases were conditional, the activists can be jailed again at any time.