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Rights groups call for release of Cuban political prisoners held since 2003

[JURIST] Rights groups Tuesday marked the anniversary of a March 2003 crackdown on dissidents in Cuba by calling for the release of political prisoners detained during that round-up. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website; CPJ report], Human Rights First (HRF) [advocacy website; press release] and other groups urged new Cuban President Raul Castro [JURIST report] to release 55 detainees still in custody. Seventy-five journalists, librarians and freedom activists were origially detained; 16 were later released for medical reasons in 2004 and four were released to Spain [JURIST reports] last month. CPJ called on Cuba to

- Immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists.
- Vacate the convictions of the nine journalists who were released on medical parole since the 2003 crackdown.
- Ensure the proper care of all journalists in government custody. We hold the government responsible for the health and welfare of those incarcerated.
- Fully meet its commitments under the recently signed International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by allowing journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal.
Fidel Castro's administration had defended the 2003 arrests as protection against "mercenaries" working with the United States.

Last month, Raul Castro's government signed two international human rights treaties [JURIST report] and said that Cuba would begin allowing UN observers to monitor its human rights performance [VOA report] beginning in 2009. A January report [JURIST report] from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation noted that although the number of political prisoners in Cuba has decreased from 283 at the end of 2006 to 234 at the end of 2007, human rights abuses continue. Last week, the US State Department criticized Cuba [JURIST report] for its rights record as apart of its annual worldwide human rights survey. AP has more.

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