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The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana
"Biscet said all his actions were part of non-violent civic protests"
 real 28k

Saturday, 26 February, 2000, 00:12 GMT
Cuban jailed over flag insult

Oscar Biscet
Oscar Biscet (centre) is a long-standing opponent of Fidel Castro's rule


A Cuban court has sentenced a prominent dissident to three years in prison for a series of crimes including insulting the Cuban flag by turning it upside down.

Oscar Elias Biscet, a 38-year-old doctor, was also convicted on charges of public disorder and inciting crime.

The head of the three man magistrates panel, Judge Mercedes Zerquera, gave Biscet a one year sentence for each of the three charges, to run consecutively.

Biscet, who was arrested last November after turning the Cuban flag upside down at a rally, reportedly left the courtroom smiling and gave a victory sign to relatives.

Fidel Castro Fidel Castro says Biscet was "a bit disturbed"
Two other dissidents, Fermin Scull Zulueta and Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, who were arrested separately in November on similar charges are also expected to appear before the court.

In a speech prior to Biscet's arrest, Cuban President Fidel Castro denounced him by name as a "counter-revolutionary" troublemaker and accused him of acting on the orders of the US Government, which opposes communist rule in Cuba.

"There is a rather provocative gentleman and, in my opinion, a bit disturbed, frankly, for the things he does, for the problems he causes, for the disputes he has with his own people," Mr Castro said at the time.

Anti-government


Biscet, a long-standing opponent of the rule of Fidel Castro, has said he represents peaceful opposition to Cuba's one-party socialist system, and speaks for human rights and political prisoners.

He leads a local rights group called the Lawton Foundation.

Human rights groups reported the arrest of a number of other anti-government activists ahead of the trial, in what they say is a direct attempt to prevent any protests outside the court.

Sedition


The conviction of Biscet is being seen as the most significant dissident case in Cuba since the "Group of Four" opposition activists were tried in March 1999.

They are now serving sentences of between three-and-a-half and five years for "inciting sedition", after calling for political and economic reforms. Their case has brought freedom appeals from around the world, and international groups have also expressed concern at the fate of Biscet.

Conscience


Amnesty International has appealed to Cuba for Biscet's "immediate and unconditional release as a prisoner of conscience."

And the Paris-based journalists' rights group, Reporters Sans Frontieres, also issued a statement condemning the arrest of two dissident reporters, Angel Pablo Polanco and Omar Rodriguez Saludes.

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11 Jan 00 |  Americas
More political prisoners in Cuba
05 Dec 99 |  Americas
Silent protest in Havana
16 Feb 99 |  Americas
Castro cracks down
01 Jan 99 |  Americas
Castro: The great survivor
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