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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 11:10 GMT


World: Americas

Cuban dissidents await verdict

The dissidents were arrested after talking to journalists

Four of Cuba's most famous dissidents are awaiting a verdict after being tried on charges of sedition.

They were accused of openly criticising the one-party system on the Communist-ruled island.

Cuban security forces reportedly detained scores of activists during the one day trial to prevent protests.

The hearing, held behind closed doors, ended at 2230 (0330 GMT) on Monday.

The prosecution recommended a six-year sentence for lead defendant Vladimiro Roca, son of the late Communist leader Blas Roca.

It asked for five years for the three others - economist Martha Beatriz Roque, lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne.

Family members said the four had turned down government offers to go into exile rather than face trial.

Diplomats barred from trial

Foreign diplomats and journalists were turned away from the court building in the capital Havana.


[ image: Mr Roca's wife: Prosecution case was ''insulting'']
Mr Roca's wife: Prosecution case was ''insulting''
In addition, close to 100 people were detained or held under house arrest on Monday, the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation has said.

The round-up was the largest in recent years.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman James Foley blasted Cuba's regime for showing "utter disregard of the concerns of the international community which has insisted that the four be released".

He said the trial and detentions "underscore the deplorable human rights conditions in Cuba".

News conferences

The four dissidents were arrested after trying to raise the profile of the small and divided internal opposition in Cuba.

Their activities included:

  • holding several news conferences with foreign journalists

  • calling on people to boycott elections

  • producing a document which criticised the one-party state and called for democratic change.

Mr Roca's wife, Magaly de Armas, who was allowed to attend the trial, said the prosecutor's presentation was a political diatribe intended to present the accused as US-paid "counter-revolutionary" saboteurs.

"I want to say that Vladimiro is not paid by the US Government, neither before, nor now, nor will he ever be. That is totally false," she said.

'Solitary confinement'

Mr Roca was part of the Communist-controlled labour movement before joining the opposition.

For much of the last 18 months, he has been isolated in a high security cell, according to his wife, who has been allowed occasional visits.

Appeals for the release of the four have come from the Vatican, the European Union, Canada and the United States, among others.



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