Saturday, June 12, 2010

Church: Cuba to free dissident; transfer 6 others

By David Ariosto, CNN
June 11, 2010 11:57 p.m. EDT
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The decision is a rare sign of compromise between Cuba, church
  • Church: Ariel Sigler, in jail since 2003, will be freed
  • Six others will be sent to prisons close to their homes
  • Church, state talked in May about prisoner release
(CNN) -- In the latest sign of compromise between Cuba and the island's church leaders, Cuba's Roman Catholic Church says the government has agreed to free one jailed dissident and relocate six others to prisons closer to their homes.
Ailing political prisoner Ariel Sigler -- who has been in jail since a 2003 government crackdown -- is set to be freed, the church said in statement late Friday evening.
His release -- and the six other prisoner transfers -- follows a series of inmate transfers to prisons closer to their homes announced earlier this month.
The Cuban government could not immediately confirm the transfers.
Earlier in June, the church announced that longtime dissident Diosdado Gonzalez was being moved from a maximum security prison in Cuba's western Pinar Del Rio province to a prison closer his home in Matanzas province.
He and others were set to be transferred earlier this month, according to a church statement made in early June.
In May, Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, described a rare four-hour meeting with President Castro as a "magnificent start" to talks centered around the potential release of some of the island's jailed dissidents.
Ortega also successfully negotiated a rare agreement with government authorities last month that allowed a group of women protesters to march.

Cuba to release paraplegic dissident: Catholic Church

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba is to release a jailed paraplegic political dissident as a result of talks between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro, the office of the Archbishop of Havana said. The dissident, Ariel Sigler Amaya, 46, has been in prison since 2003. Six other dissidents will also be moved to jails in their home provinces on Saturday to be closer to their relatives as a result of the talks, the archbishop's office said in a statement. Cuban authorities told Cardinal Jaime Ortega that Sigler, sentenced to 20 years prison and currently in a Havana hospital, would be given license to leave prison. Sigler and the other six prisoners are part of a group of 73 political dissidents picked up in a government crackdown in March 2003. Of the original group, 53 remain behind bars, including Sigler and the other six. Sigler, who heads the Independent Alternative Option Movement (MIOA) -- an outlawed political group in the western province of Matanzas -- was stricken with a series of chronic illnesses and has been in a wheelchair since September 2008. In mid-August 2009 he was hospitalized. Cuba's communist government in early June started relocating political prisoners closer to their families after talks with church representatives, dissident and family sources said. The talks between Castro and Ortega, launched on May 19, were aimed at ending hunger strikes in support of the political prisoners, which have become a major political embarrassment for the Cuban government. However the head of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN), Elizardo Sanchez, said he was "unsatisfied" with the news. Sigler "should be released without conditions" because the release conditions implied that he could be re-arrested, Sanchez said. According to the CCDHRN -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- there are some 200 political prisoners on the island. Cuban authorities consider them a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" in Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government. The last political prisoner the Cuban government released was Nelson Aguiar, 64, set free for health reasons in October 2009 after the Spanish government lobbied for his release. Improvements for the prisoners come as the United States and the European Union have heavily criticized Cuba for its poor human rights record, especially following the February death of dissident Orlando Zapata after an 85-day hunger strike. "Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, was informed by authorities that (Saturday) six prisoners will be transferred to their province of residence," read the statement from the archbishop's office released late Friday. "We were informed at the same time that prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya ... will be released on parole" for health reasons, the statement read, without saying when Sigler would be released.