In the last weeks of March 2003, the Cuban government sentenced some 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists, economists and librarians to up to 28 years in prison in the harshest crackdown on civil society seen on the island in years. The government’s actions have been widely condemned by human rights organizations, foreign governments and the United Nations.
The activists were arrested, tried, and sentenced on charges of “disrespect” toward the Revolution, “treason,” and “giving information to the enemy.” The real reason for their imprisonment appears to be their non-violent promotion of human rights and democracy. Many of the imprisoned dissidents were organizers of the Varela Project, a constitutionally-based civic initiative that collected signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on democratic reforms and respect for basic freedoms.
Family members of the dissidents have reported that they are being held in substandard conditions, in small, dimly lit cells with poor ventilation. Adequate medical attention has also been denied to several critically ill dissidents.
Since 2003, 15 of the 75 arrested in the crackdown have been released on medical parole due to poor health, but they could be sent back to prison at any time.
Human Rights First condemns the crackdown on independent human rights defenders and political activists and is urging the Cuban government to order the release of all individuals who were arrested and convicted because of their efforts to exercise their civil and political rights and their efforts to promote and protect basic human rights in Cuba.