Cuban blogger says husband freed, other activists still detained

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2014 10:08 AM

By Daniel Wallis

HAVANA (Reuters) - A prominent opposition blogger in Cuba said her husband was freed by the authorities overnight but several dissidents were still in custody on Wednesday, a day after they were arrested in a move that drew condemnation from the United States.

The detentions in the Cuban capital were the most significant crackdown on the opposition on the communist-led island since Havana and Washington agreed on Dec. 17 to restore diplomatic ties and end more than 50 years of hostility.

Yoani Sanchez, who said her husband Reinaldo Escobar had been taken away in handcuffs along with another activist, said Escobar returned home overnight. She thanked well-wishers for their support but said several dissidents were still held.

"It's Dec. 31 and there are families which cannot celebrate together," Sanchez wrote on Twitter. "We continue to protest on behalf of those who are still in detention."

About 12 activists were taken away by police officers, while others were instructed not to leave their homes, said Elizardo Sanchez, the leader of a dissident human rights commission that monitors such detentions.

Tuesday's action by the authorities came ahead of a planned open-microphone event in the capital's Revolution Square, at which activists were going to speak about their vision for Cuba.

The organizer of the event, which flopped after the detentions when only a handful of people showed up, was performance artist Tania Bruguera. She had vowed to go ahead with the event even after Cuban officials denied her a permit.

On Tuesday, Bruguera also went missing, and Sanchez said her husband saw her at the police station where he was held. That could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.

Cuba's government had denounced the plans for the open-microphone event as "political provocation."

Responding to the first major test of U.S. President Barack Obama's policy shift toward Havana, the U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was deeply concerned by the detentions.

"We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom expression, and intimidate citizens," it said.

Obama has said Cubans should not face harassment or arrest for expressing their views, and that Washington would continue to monitor human rights on the island.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Toni Reinhold)