April 26, 2002

Letter to President Fidel Castro

Humans Right Watch, April 25, 2002.

New York, April 25, 2002

Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz
La Habana, Cuba

Dear President Castro:

I am writing to urge you to order the release of Juan Carlos González Leiva, a human rights activist, as well as five other activists (Delio Laureano Requejo, Lázaro Iglesias Estrada, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Enrique García Morejón, and Antonio García Morejón) and two independent journalists (Léxter Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera) who were beaten and arbitrarily jailed by Cuban law enforcement authorities on March 4, 2002, in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.

Juan Carlos González Leiva, a blind man, is president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights (Fundación Cubana de Derechos Humanos) and the Fraternity for the Blind in Cuba (Fraternidad de Ciegos Independientes Cubanos). He is currently incarcerated in the Department of State Security in Holguín, and has been accused of public disorder (desorden público) and contempt (desacato), crimes that carry a possible prison sentence of one to three years. No trial date has been set in his case.

González was reportedly detained during a visit at the Hospital Antonio Luaces Iraola, where he went to see an independent journalist who had been beaten by the police earlier in the day. Jesús Alvarez Castillo, a reporter from the Cuba Press agency, and Lexter Telles Castro, director of the Free Press Agency of Ciego de Avila, were traveling to the monthly meeting of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, scheduled to take place on March 4, 2002, when members of the state security police, the national revolutionary police, and the special brigades reportedly blocked the journalists' passage and physically attacked them. As a result of the attack, Alvarez lost consciousness, suffered a neck injury, and was taken to the provincial hospital.

Upon being informed of the incident, Juan Carlos González Leiva went to the Hospital Antonio Luaces Iraola where Alvarez was hospitalized, along with several other members of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, members of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación), and two independent journalists. During their visit in the hospital, the group prayed for Alvarez and, for approximately five to ten minutes, shouted statements such as "Long live human rights." The group reportedly stopped shouting and sat down peacefully in a hospital hallway when the hospital staff requested they be quiet.

According to the reports Human Rights Watch has received, after the group had been sitting quietly in the hallway for approximately one hour, the state security police arrived. The state security forces physically dragged the activists and journalists out of the hospital, hit and kicked some of them, arrested them, and took them to the Technical Department of Investigations in Ciego de Avila. The authorities put González in a patrol car, where they beat him, causing a wound on his forehead that required four stitches.

Since his arrest, González has been moved to the detention facilities of the Department of State Security in Holguín, approximately 300 kilometers from his home in Ciego de Avila, making it very difficult for his wife to visit him. The other activists and journalists who were arrested with González are currently incarcerated in detention centers in Holguín, Camaguey, and Cienfuegos.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that González is not receiving appropriate treatment in prison. The authorities have taken away his glasses and the cane he uses to determine where he is walking, and no special accommodations have been made for his blindness. Moreover, the authorities have reportedly refused to allow him to keep a Braille Bible that his wife brought to him.

We recognize that shouting in a hospital might be disruptive to other patients. However, the actions taken by the Cuban authorities against González and the other human rights advocates and journalists who were with him - including physical attack, incarceration for over one month, and charging them with crimes that may carry lengthy prison sentences - were disproportionate to the actions taken by González and his colleagues on March 4, 2002.

We urge you to order the release of Juan Carlos González Leiva, the two independent journalists and five activists arrested with him, and the many others who are incarcerated in Cuba for exercising their internationally-recognized human rights.


José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director

© Copyright 2002, Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA

Related stories

Cuba: Beating and Incarceration of Human Rights Activists Condemned / HRW

Police beat up and arrest peaceful protesters / Carlos Serpa Maceira

Activists clash with police in Ciego de Avila / CPIC

Two journalists and eight activists go on hunger strike / CPIC

Blind Christian Human Rights activist beaten and imprisoned in Cuba / Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Police assault journalist / CPJ


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