Amnesty recognizes Cuban 'prisoner of conscience'

AP News
Posted: Sep 11, 2013 1:32 PM

HAVANA (AP) — Amnesty International designated a sixth Cuban dissident jailed in the island nation as a "prisoner of conscience" Wednesday and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Ivan Fernandez Depestre, 40, was arrested July 30 in the central province of Santa Clara during an event marking the 56th anniversary of the death of Cuban revolutionary Frank Pais, the London-based human rights group said in a statement.

It said Fernandez was convicted of pre-criminal "dangerousness," under which Cubans can be held for "special proclivity to commit crimes," and sentenced to three years. Critics accuse the government of using the statute to punish dissidents for their political beliefs.

"It is a sad reflection of the state of the rule of law in Cuba when people are convicted to prison terms not for what they have done but for what they might do," Amnesty special adviser Javier Zuniga said in the statement.

Cuban officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities consider Cuba's small community of outspoken dissidents to be traitorous counterrevolutionaries who accept foreign money to try to undermine the Communist system. They deny holding any political prisoners.

In recent years Cuba cleared its lockups of internationally recognized prisoners of conscience, with the last of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown walking free in 2011 thanks to a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church.

Hold The Damn Vote Already
Derek Hunter

Many went into exile with their families, although others remained in Cuba.

Amnesty recognized five other Cuban "prisoners of conscience" last month.

But for the most part, activists say brief catch-and-release detentions have replaced long jail terms as a strategy for keeping dissent in check.

Elizardo Sanchez, who heads a Cuba-based non-governmental group that monitors opposition arrests, said there was no proof Fernandez had committed any crime, and expressed surprise at the sentence.

"We support Amnesty International's petition," Sanchez said.

Fernandez is not a well-known dissident, and Sanchez said he does not have a long history as an activist.


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: