For Immediate Release: July 8, 2010
New York City Human Rights First today welcomed the Cuban government’s announcement that it would release 52 political prisoners. Today’s announcement comes seven years after some 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists, economists and librarians were sentenced to up to 28 years in prison in one of the harshest crackdowns on civil society seen on the island.
“In the face of persistent threats, insults and their government’s attempts to silence them, human rights defenders in Cuba have continued to struggle for justice and freedom.” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “While we welcome the pending release of these political prisoners, we recognize Cuba continues to jail individuals for the non-violent expression of their opinions, and that independent human rights defenders in Cuba continue to be denied their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.”
During its 2006 human rights awards dinner, Human Rights First honored las Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White). This Cuban advocacy organization is made up of the wives, daughters and relatives of political prisoners, including many of the individuals whose pending release was announced today. Every Sunday, dressed in white, the women meet at mass in the Santa Rita church and then walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana in silent protest of the unjust incarceration of their relatives and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba. Since the organization was founded there have been efforts to silence their voices, but las Damas de Blanco remained unrelenting in demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
“Las Damas de Blanco and every human rights defender in Cuba who played a role in today’s release have demonstrated to the world that sustained advocacy of justice and human rights can produce results.” concluded Massimino. “But durable change will only come when the Cuban government changes its policies and practices to end interference with fundamental freedoms and suppression of human rights defenders and other independent civil society activists.”
Spain has agreed to take in the 52 dissidents released by Cuba. According to news reports, these political prisoners will all be resettled within three to four months. For more information about las Damas de Blanco, visit http://www.damasdeblanco.org/ (in Spanish) or http://www.humanrightsfirst.org:7777/defenders/hrd_cuba/hrd_cuba_ladies.aspx.