What's At Stake?
Protect Cuban Activists Arrested in Latest Government Crackdown Humans Rights First
On July 22, 2005, Cuban authorities arrested 33 dissidents preparing to attend a demonstration in front of the French Embassy in Havana to demand greater European attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba. René Gómez Manzano, Oscar Mario González, and Julio César López are among nine political activists who were arrested on July 22 and remain in detention. The clampdown came on the heels of another series of arrests on July 13, in which at least 24 dissidents were rounded up during ceremonies to mark the 11th anniversary of the sinking of a ferryboat carrying Cubans attempting to immigrate illegally to the United States. Of those arrested on July 13, six remain in detention.
The arrests represent the largest crackdown on political activists since March 2003, when 75 dissidents were rounded up and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. Law 88 was applied for the first time against many of those detained and sentenced in 2003. The legislation places unlawful restrictions on internationally-recognized rights, including excessive limits on freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Gómez Manzano is a lawyer and prominent leader in the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, which organized a rare public meeting in Havana on May 20, bringing together over 100 representatives of Cuba's pro-democracy movement. In 1992, he created the "Corriente Agramontista," a group of independent lawyers with the aim of peacefully promoting civil and political rights and respect for the rule of law. Following their involvement in publishing a document critical of the human rights and economic performance of the Castro regime and calling for reforms, Gómez Manzano and three of his colleagues were arrested in 1997 and accused of "counterrevolutionary activities." All four were sentenced in 1998 to four years in prison for "acts of sedition." The imprisoned activists became known as the "Group of Four" and their unjust imprisonment elicited a wave of international condemnation. Gómez Manzano was "conditionally released" in May 2000, although he continued his political advocacy out of jail.
Oscar Mario González is an independent journalist of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro news agency, which frequently reports on the Cuban government's violations of civil and political rights. On March 24, 2005, González was summoned and questioned by state security agents, who threatened that he would not be able to see his family again if he continued practicing as an independent journalist. González joins 21 other independent journalists who have been imprisoned in Cuba since March 2003, including others from Trabajo Decoro.
Julio César López is Vice-President of the Frente Línea Dura movement and Director of its independent library. López is a longtime activist for peaceful democratic and civil rights reforms. Independent librarians in Cuba provide access to books that are banned by the authorities. These include literature written by authors such as George Orwell, Václav Havel, and Dr. Martin Luther King, whose works are considered to be among the classics of anti-totalitarian literature.
Alarmingly, the Cuban authorities have reportedly communicated to the families of the three activists their intention to prosecute them under Special Law 88, or the "Law for the Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba." Law 88 was passed in 1999, but was applied for the first time against many of the 75 dissidents arrested in March 2003. Portrayed as a direct response to anti-Cuba measures in the U.S., Law 88 establishes stiff penalties for those found guilty of vaguely defined "counterrevolutionary" or "subversive" activities. Sentences of up to 20 years can and have been meted out under Law 88 for actions that fall within internationally-recognized rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly and association.
The string of arrests in July represents the largest crackdown on political activists since March 2003, when the Cuban government sentenced some 75 activists to up to 28 years in prison. Although a few have since been released following international pressure, the vast majority remain in detention. Following the arrests this July, President Fidel Castro gave a virulent and widely-publicized speech in which he labeled opposition activists as "mercenaries" and "traitors," and warned that activists would be stopped if they continued to push established limits.
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Collaboration of Bitácora Cubana