Saturday, June 12, 2010
HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba on Saturday released a jailed paraplegic political dissident as a result of talks between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro, a family source said.
Ariel Sigler Amaya, 46, had been in prison for more than six years. He was part of a group of 73 political dissidents picked up in a government crackdown in March 2003.
"He is already home, they brought him by ambulance and carried him in on a stretcher because his health has greatly deteriorated," his brother Juan Francisco Sigler told AFP.
Ariel Sigler Amaya, who heads the Independent Alternative Option Movement (MIOA) -- an outlawed political group in the western province of Matanzas -- has faced a series of chronic illnesses and has been in a wheelchair since September 2008.
Cuban authorities told Cardinal Jaime Ortega on Friday that Sigler, sentenced to 20 years in prison, would be given license to leave prison.
Six other dissidents will also be moved to jails in their home provinces on Saturday to be closer to their relatives as a result of the talks, the archbishop's office said in a statement.
Sigler and the other six prisoners were among 53 of the original 73 activists picked up in 2003 still behind bars.
Cuba's communist government in early June started moving political prisoners closer to their families after talks with church representatives, according to dissident and family sources.
The talks between Castro and Ortega, launched on May 19, were aimed at ending hunger strikes in support of the political prisoners, which have become a major political embarrassment for the Cuban government.
The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- says there are some 200 political prisoners on the island.
Cuban authorities consider them a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" on Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government.
The last political prisoner released by the Cuban government was Nelson Aguiar, 64, who was freed for health reasons in October 2009 after the Spanish government lobbied for his release.
Improvements for the prisoners come as the United States and the European Union have heavily criticized Cuba for its poor human rights record, especially following the February death of dissident Orlando Zapata after an 85-day hunger strike.