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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"Private criticism is tolerated in Cuba"
 real 28k

Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Cuba frees leading dissident
Felix Bonne and wife
Felix Bonne with his wife Maria Dominguez Diaz after his release
A leading Cuban dissident has been unexpectedly freed from jail.

Felix Bonne is one of the so-called Group of Four dissidents held since 1997.

His family says he was set free on Friday, after serving three years of a four-year sentence.

"It's confirmed. He has conditional liberty. This is very good news," said activist Elizardo Sanchez after speaking to Mr Bonne's wife.



Despite the fact that they have been in jail so long, their release now is obviously better than at the end of their sentences

European diplomat in Havana
He added: "I just hope now that they free the other three."

Mr Bonne, who is 61, was an engineering professor at the University of Havana and a founder-member of an organisation of professors who wanted political reform.

There have been appeals from all over the world for the release of the Group of Four.

The Vatican, the European Union, Canada, the United States and others all said their sentences were excessive and called for the four to be freed.


Castro
President Castro says the dissidents are US-funded
Diplomats in Havana welcomed Mr Bonne's release and urged the Cuban Government to follow it up with others.

"This will be very well-received abroad. Despite the fact that they have been in jail so long, their release now is obviously better than at the end of their sentences," said one European diplomat.

The four were arrested in July 1997, after publishing a document criticising Cuba's communist government, calling on people to boycott elections in the one-party state and campaigning against foreign investment on the island.

'Peaceful opposition'

They were jailed the following year for inciting sedition.

Mr Bonne and the three other dissidents - Vladimiro Roca, economist Martha Beatriz Roque, lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano - say they represent peaceful opposition to the one-party system of President Fidel Castro.

President Castro says they were paid by the US to act as "counter-revolutionaries".

Propaganda

BBC correspondent Tom Gibb says that, although it is normal in Cuba for prisoners to be freed on parole, the release of Felix Bonne has nevertheless taken many by surprise.

Fidel Castro last year said that if other countries pressured for the release of prisoners, then they would have to serve their entire sentences.

The freeing of Felix Bonne came only a day after a human rights group appealed for another dissident, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, to be allowed freedom so he could obtain medical care.

The Miami-based Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Directorate, said Garcia, 34, was suffering from renal failure, hypoglycaemia and bleeding, as well as malnutrition, intestinal parasites and ulcers.

Garcia was given an 18-year jail term in 1990 for "enemy oral propaganda".

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See also:

24 Mar 98 | Americas
Washington's plea on Cuba
30 Sep 99 | Americas
Cuba opposition plan for democracy
01 Jan 99 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
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