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Rights group urges Cuba to release 'prisoners of conscience'

Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday called for [press release] Cuba to release five prisoners whom the group has called "prisoners of conscience." AI reported that the five prisoners are indicative of the continuing repression of speech that exists in the country. Cuba denies holding political prisoners [AP report] and has recently cleared its jails of internationally recognized prisoners of conscience. The last of approximately 75 dissidents sentenced to prison terms after a 2003 crackdown walked free in 2011 under a deal between Cuba and the Roman Catholic church. AI stated, however, that journalist Calixto Martinez was named a prisoner of conscience in January and freed months later without ever receiving a formal charge. Two of the current prisoners of conscience belong to a dissident group called the Patriotic Union of Cuba, and one to the Ladies in White. Javier Zuniga, Special Advisor for AI stated, "The only progress made by the Cuban government has been the reform of the Migration Law earlier this year. It allowed many people including human rights defenders and government critics to travel abroad. Much more needs to be done to guarantee civil and political liberties in the country."

Cuba has had a history of suppressing political dissent [HRW backgrounder] through the holding of prisoners of conscience or criminal prosecutions. In January various dissident groups, such as the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that the Cuban government imprisoned more than 6,000 political activists [JURIST report] in 2012. Last August AI called on Cuba to end its harassment [JURIST report] of political opposition. Last July both AI and the US government criticized [JURIST report] Cuba for how it treated political opposition. In December 2011 the government announced that it would grant amnesty [JURIST report] to and release 2,900 prisoners, including political prisoners. The announcement came after a scheduled visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

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