HAVANA TIMES, March 21 (dpa) — Less than a week before Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cuba for a three-day official visit, Amnesty International warned in a report Thursday that “repression is routine” on the island and that conditions are worsening there.
“Since Amnesty International’s last report on the respect for the freedom of expression in Cuba, published in June 2010, the situation has further deteriorated with a steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions,” the London-based organization for the defense of human rights said.
High expectations are being put by dissidents within and outside the country on Benedict’s visit Monday to Wednesday next week and the contribution he may make to human rights in Cuba.
“Criticism of the government is not tolerated in Cuba and it is routinely punished with arbitrary and short-term detentions, ‘acts of repudiation’ (demonstrations led by government supporters with the alleged participation of state security officials aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics), intimidation, harassment and politically motivated criminal prosecutions,” Amnesty said.
Cuban authorities have long insisted that they hold no political prisoners and that anyone held in jail within the country’s borders is there for breaking its common laws. However, Amnesty denounces that “laws on ‘public disorder,’ ‘contempt,’ ‘disrespect,’ ‘dangerousness’ and ‘aggression’ are used to prosecute government opponents.”
The Cuban Roman Catholic church brokered in recent months the release of scores of imprisoned dissidents, most of whom were forced into exile in Spain.
“In 2011, the release of dozens of political prisoners and the last remaining prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown did not herald a change in human rights policy. The vast majority of those released were forced into exile, while in Cuba the authorities were determined to contain the dissidence and government critics with new tactics,” the AI report says.
Scores of women belonging to the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) dissident organization were detained for a few hours over the weekend.
Amnesty International denounces that “short-term detentions of political and human rights activists and independent journalists are becoming more and more frequent,” and it also notes that the Ladies in White are being targeted in particular.
“The number of short-term detentions has risen sharply over the past 24 months. The ‘Hablemos Press’ Information Centre, an unofficial news agency monitoring human rights abuses across Cuba has recorded a four-fold increase in the number of reported arrests from 2009 to 2010 and a two-fold increase from 2010 to 2011,” the report said.
It also denounced the situation of Cuban independent journalists.
“Independent journalists play a key role in investigating and exposing human rights violations committed by the Cuban security forces, and as such, they are the targets of continuous repression by the Cuban authorities.”
Dissidents hope that the pope’s visit may put human rights in Cuba under the spotlight.
Several dissident organizations have requested audiences with the pope while he is in the Caribbean country, although the Vatican has already said that there are “no plans” for such meetings. Some dissident leaders have complained that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is “sanctioning” government policy with its disposition for dialogue.