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Prisoners Beaten in Cuba

After a wave of arrests that began on March 18th 2003 in Cuba, there is great concern that 77 people may be prisoners of conscience, detained for the non-violent exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. In what has been labeled as the biggest crackdown in a decade by dissident groups, at least five dozen people from different provinces across the country— including journalists, pro-democracy leaders of illegal opposition parties, owners of private libraries, have been detained in a major police operation. Many were promoters of Proyecto Varela. All of the detainees remain imprisoned without charge, and the whereabouts of some of them is unknown. Those detained could face up to 20 years in prison under harsh legislation introduced in 1999.

The Proyecto Varela is a petition for referendum on legal reform for greater personal, political and economic freedoms, as well as amnesty for political prisoners. In March 2002, project organizers reported having collected the 10,000 signatures constitutionally required to hold a referendum. This effort is led by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, (Christian Liberation Movement). Activists for the Proyecto Varela have been subjected to threats, short-term detention, summons, confiscation of materials and other forms of harassment by State Security agents. However, Oswaldo Payá has not been detained or harassed in connection with his activities.

In order to rectify the brutal actions of the authorities, the Cuban government must immediate release information regarding the detention of all concerned, the charges against them and the legal grounds on which they will be tried. These detainees may be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

AI INDEX: AMR 25/008/2003 3 April 2003

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