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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK
Cuba dissidents 'in closed trial'
File photo of Cuban activist Elizardo Sanchez
Elizardo Sanchez says the dissidents could face years in jail
Ten activists have been put on trial behind closed doors in Cuba, a local human rights group says.

The group comprises a blind lawyer and nine other government opponents accused of disrespecting authority, the Cuban Human Rights Commission said.

Only relatives were let into the trial where the accused face jail terms of up to six years if found guilty, it added.

The prosecution would be the first of dissidents since 75 opposition activists were jailed last year.

Those sentences - of up to 28 years - attracted international criticism from governments and human rights groups.

The dissidents were convicted of conspiring with the US to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro in one-day trials.

Hospital arrest

Activists said the trial of blind lawyer Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva and the other nine dissidents began on Monday, a day earlier than planned in the central town of Ciego de Avila.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the commission, said the 10 defendants were charged with disrespect for authority and public disorder.

The trial of a blind lawyer, along with nine other dissidents, continues the repressive trend that was so glaringly evident last year in Cuba
Human Rights Watch
"They face sentences of up to six years," he told the Reuters news agency.

All 10 people were arrested on 4 March 2002, when they tried to visit an independent journalist, who had allegedly been beaten by police at a Ciego de Avila hospital.

They have been detained since then.

Ahead of the trial, the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said the situation was a "travesty".

"The trial of a blind lawyer, along with nine other dissidents, continues the repressive trend that was so glaringly evident last year in Cuba," it said in a statement.

In February, a United Nations envoy published a scathing report on Cuba's treatment of political dissidents in prison.

French judge Christine Chanet, who was appointed to look into alleged human rights abuses, said reports that dissidents were being held in "trying" conditions were "particularly alarming".

At that time Havana, which denied Ms Chanet permission to visit, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be concentrating on alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay, the US military detention centre in Cuba.

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