Friday, September 28, 2007

Cuba detains dissidents at ministry protest

Cuba detains dissidents at ministry protest
Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:06pm EDT

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban security police detained seven dissidents who
went to the Justice Ministry on Thursday to demand better conditions for
Cuba's political prisoners.

The demonstrators, led by prominent dissident leader Martha Beatriz
Roque, were pushed and yelled at by a group of 100 government supporters
sent to quell the protest, and then put on a bus and driven home, Roque

"I was scratched, pushed and insulted," she said by telephone from her
Havana home. "There was no need to resort to violence."

Roque handed in a letter at the ministry demanding that Cuba's Communist
authorities improve the jail conditions for political prisoners. She and
her group then stood outside waiting for a reply.

Veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission
for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said more than a dozen
other dissidents were picked up by state security police -- some in
their homes -- before they could join the protest. He was not sure they
had all been freed.

"We are demanding that the political prisoners be treated with dignity,
because they are human beings, and besides, they are innocent," Roque,
an economist who has twice been jailed for several years for criticizing
Cuba's one-party state.

Sanchez said there are 250 Cubans in prison for political reasons,
though the number has dropped since ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro
handed over the government to his brother Raul after intestinal surgery
last year.

Most prisoners lack hygienic cells, clean water, adequate food and
medical attention, he said, and many are ill.

The government denies there are political prisoners in Cuba and does not
recognize the existence of dissidents. Instead, it labels them
"counter-revolutionary mercenaries" on the payroll of the United States,
its ideological arch-enemy.

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