Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Amnesty urges Cuba to free all political detainees

Orlando Zapata Tamayo (second from left) poses with fellow dissidents - photo March 2003
Mr Zapata (second left) was arrested in 2003 with more than 70 others

Amnesty International has urged Cuba to release all political prisoners after the death of a detained activist who had been on hunger strike.

Cuban Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in hospital in Havana on Tuesday, 85 days after he began refusing food.

The group said his death was "a terrible illustration of the despair" facing Cuba's political detainees.

The 42-year-old was arrested in March 2003 in an crackdown against opposition activists.

Mr Zapata, who was declared a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International, had been refusing food in protest at jail conditions.

Mr Zapata, whose family announced last week that he was seriously ill, died in the capital's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.

The international community has expressed deep regret at his death.

US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said Mr Zapata's death "highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay".

The EU Commission offered its condolences to his family and said the issue of Cuba's political prisoners would remain a "key priority for the EU".

Sentence increased

Mr Zapata's death marks the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban activist has starved himself to death to protest against government abuses.

The last political prisoner to die on hunger strike in Cuba was Pedro Luis Boitel, a poet and student leader, in 1972.

Mr Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, has said she believes her son to have been "murdered" by Cuba's authorities.

"They managed to do what they wanted," she told the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald. "They ended the life of a fighter for human rights.''

Mr Zapata was among a group of some 75 dissidents jailed by the authorities in 2003.

Mr Zapata was initially sentenced to three years in prison, but this was increased to 25 years in subsequent trials after he was charged with disobedience and disorder in a penal establishment, Amnesty says.

Cuba says prisoners of conscience are mercenaries sympathetic to the United States.

Cuban prison hunger striker dies
24 Feb 10 |  Americas
Cuba frees well-known dissident
06 Dec 06 |  Americas
Cuba dissident Miguel Valdes dies
11 Jan 07 |  Americas

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