A leading human rights worker said Friday that authorities have detained two former political prisoners in eastern Cuba, the first arrests involving members of a group of 75 intellectuals and social commentators since they were freed after a 2003 crackdown on dissent.
The detention of Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer occurred as the men were preparing to march in the town of Palma Soriano, said Elizardo Sanchez, a prominent human rights activist on the island. Moya is the husband of Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White dissident group.
The last of the prisoners from 2003 were freed earlier this year under an agreement between Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and President Raul Castro, but the Ladies in White have kept up their opposition activities.
Sanchez said the detentions occurred a day after a march by the Ladies in White in Santiago at which nearly two dozen people were detained, including another of the group's leaders, Laura Pollan. But all of those people were quickly released, he said.
A similar march Thursday in Havana also resulted in arrests, though Soler told The Associated Press that those detained in the capital were not linked to her group.
Soler said Thursday's arrests were the result of "provocations by a small group with which we have nothing to do."
Dissidents have complained of increasing harassment in recent weeks as they seek to expand their activities outside the capital.
On Monday, the Cuban Roman Catholic Church denounced acts of abuse by pro-government crowds against the Ladies and said it had received assurances from Castro's government that officials were not behind the violence.
Cuban officials insist that the counter-protests at the Ladies' marches are spontaneous, though state security officials are normally present. State media have claimed the uptick in reports of alleged harassment is part of a foreign news media campaign being orchestrated by exiles and other political opponents.
The government considers the opposition to be common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.
In its statement Monday, the church called on both sides to lower the tension level, saying any behavior that "could hurt peaceful existence and harm the good of the nation will never receive any support from those with a Christian view of the world."