The US government and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Wednesday criticized Cuba [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] for the arrest and detention of more than 40 activists who were attending the funeral of prominent dissident Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas [official website, in Spanish] who died on Sunday in a car crash. The White House [official website] released a statement condemning [press release] Cuba's repressive action against activists and urged the government to respect the internationally recognized fundamental freedom of speech. AI also criticized [press release] Cuba stating that the recent arrests demonstrated the continuous suppression of dissidents in the country. It was also reported that detainees were mistreated and beaten while police officers forced them into buses outside of the church in the Havana neighborhood of El Cerro after Tuesday's funeral mass. Among the detained were also former prisoners of conscience including Felix Navarro Rodriguez and dissident journalist Guillermo Farinas. Most of the individuals were held for short period of time until the last one was released on Wednesday morning.
Cuba has had a history of suppressing political dissent [HRW backgrounder] through criminal prosecutions. In December the government announced [JURIST report] that it would grant amnesty to and release 2,900 prisoners, including political prisoners. The announcement came in the wake of a scheduled visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Human rights activists have criticized the proposed amnesty because it was merely a protection of the country's image rather than a step towards a real reform. Alan Gross, a US contractor, who was sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years in prison for attempting to undermine the communist government of Cuba, was not given amnesty.