Cuban officials on Saturday released the first of 13 dissident prisoners who refused to go into exile as part of an agreement [JURIST report] reached between Cuba, Spain, and the Vatican. The prisoner, Arnoldo Ramos Lauzurique, was one of 52 prisoners captured as part of a 2003 tightening on dissent within the country. Of those 52 individuals, 39 agreed to go into exile in Spain. Ramos, however, is one of 13 dissidents who refused to take the deal [AP report], therefore delaying his release. Last week, the advocacy group Ladies in White [advocacy website, in Spanish] composed of the wives of imprisoned dissidents, petitioned Pope Benedict XVI [official profile] for the release of the 13 prisoners as the four-month deadline agreed by the government expired, although no specific date [Reuters report] of release was given. Another of the prisoners, Luis Enrique Ferrer, is set to be released soon [CNN report], but, unlike Ramos, will go into exile in Spain. The Cuban government has also agreed to release 14 more prisoners in addition to the original 52.
Cuba continues to face criticism for its human rights record, and the government's actions have resulted in notoriety for a number of activists. In October, dissident Guillermo Farinas was awarded the Sakharov Prize [JURIST report], given to those who work for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In March, Amnesty International called on Cuba to revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression [JURIST report]. However despite Cuba's record, reports indicated that, in 2008, the number of political prisoners in Cuba had declined from 234 to 205, although the number of brief detentions had increased, according to a report [JURIST report] issued by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in February 2009. The same report also charged that the decline in the number of political prisoners was due to the new practice of imposing shorter prison terms for those arrested employed since 2003.