Cuba transfers political prisoners

The
Cuban government is moving sick political prisoners to hospitals, and other
jailed dissidents closer to home, in a stunning concession to the recent
avalanche of criticisms of its human rights record, an independent journalist
said.

Guillermo
Fariñas, who has been on a lengthy hunger strike demanding the release of 26
ailing political prisoners, said Havana Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernández
told him the changes began Monday, and that eventually some jailed dissidents
could be freed.

Catholic
Church officials have been regularly keeping Fariñas and the Ladies in White
protesters abreast of their negotiations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro on the
fate of the political prisoners, currently estimated at about 190.

The
government’s gesture toward the prisoners marks a rare gesture of good will by
Cuba’s communist rulers, who are facing a barrage of domestic and foreign
attacks on the country’s human rights record sparked by the February death of political
prisoner Orlando Zapata after a nearly three-month hunger strike.

Among
the 190 political prisoners are 53 of the 75 dissidents sentenced to long
prison terms in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s Black Spring. Twenty-two of
the 75 have been released, mostly for health reasons, and 17 of those still
jailed are in prisons far from their families, Fariñas said.

Hernández
also said that Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who met for four hours
last week, expect to meet again late this week “to discuss the release of some
political prisoners,” according to Fariñas.

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