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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 01:49 GMT

World: Americas

Cuban dissidents sentenced

The dissidents were convicted of sedition

Four of Cuba's best-known dissidents have been given prison terms ranging from three-and-a-half to five years.

Simon Jones: Mounting international appeals for dissidents' freedom
The stiffest sentence was given to Vladimiro Roca, a former Cuban pilot and son of deceased Cuban communist hero Blas Roca.

Two others - lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne - were sentenced to four years, and Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist, was given three-and-a half years, Cuban state TV reported.

The four had earlier been found guilty of inciting sedition. They were accused of openly criticising the one-party system on the Communist-ruled island.

International condemnation

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said the trial had violated the very concept of the rule of law.

Canada, one of Cuba's biggest trading partners, announced that it would be reviewing its ties to the island. The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, said Cuba had sent an unfortunate signal to her friends in the international community.

The Cuban prosecution had recommended a six-year sentence for Vladimiro Roca and five years for the three others.

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

News conferences

The four dissidents were arrested in July 1997 after trying to raise the profile of the small and divided internal opposition in Cuba.

Their activities had included:

  • holding news conferences with foreign journalists

  • calling for elections to be boycotted

  • producing a document - the Fatherland is for All - criticising the state and calling for democratic change.

Vladimiro Roca's wife, Magaly de Armas, who attended the trial, said the prosecutor's presentation had been 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.

Vladimiro Roca had been part of the Communist-controlled labour movement before joining the opposition.

His wife said that for much of the last 18 months, he has been isolated in a high security cell.

The Vatican, the European Union, Canada and the United States have all previously appealed for the four to be released.

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