By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife
Despite pleas from fellow persecuted Christians not to do so, Cuban prisoner of conscience and journalist Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta sewed his mouth shut and was believed to continue his action Saturday, December 30, dissidents said.
Harrera Acosta, 40, sewed his mouth Tuesday, December 26, at the maximum security Prison of Kilo 8, in Camaguey, Cuba’s largest province, said Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a blind Christian lawyer and president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights (FCDH).
He, “sewed his mouth shut to protest the hostile treatment he is suffering at the hands of State Security and Military officers at this penitentiary,” said Gonzalez Leiva in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
“The guards deprive this prisoner of conscience his right to telephone calls and his end of the year family visit is suspended. Herrera Acosta is under continuous psychological persecution, since he is tormented by dangerous common prisoners,” he said in remarks released by an underground news agency.
Reports of the action came as a disappointment for Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas who represents the Christian Liberation Movement of dissidents.
Paya Sardinas, who in 2002 received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, said he had urged Herrera Acosta not to sew his mouth.
In late October, “I asked him not to do it- I am not ashamed to say that I begged it of him- telling him that it is us who still have the opportunity to speak out,” he said.
“It us who have to defend the dignity and the rights of those who are reduced to total disadvantage under truly perverse treatment. On other occasions, Juan Carlos has sewed his mouth- we do not want him to do it again,” the activist added.
“I warned him that I was not going to support that [and] that this decision is against the will of all his brothers and that he does not have to go to such extremes…[Because] we would denounce the violations that he and many other prisoners are suffering.”
At the same time he urged Christians and others that “before daring to judge him…ask: ‘What have I done in the face of this horror that so many human beings live through day to day in Cuban jails?’”
Gonzalez Leiva said Herrera Acosta’s “delicate state of health is becoming worse” since he is confined in a cell without his belongings and is reportedly forced to sleep on the floor surrounded by insects and rodents.
Dissidents say he is suffering from dystrophy and numerous other ailments, some of them being: heart blockage, vitiligo, high blood pressure, chronic gastritis, and bone disease.
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta was condemned to serve 20 years in prison during the March-April 2003 crackdown on dissidents and is confined in the same compound with “dangerous convicts” condemned to death and to life imprisonment, investigators and activists said.
He was sentenced on what activists called “trumped-up charges” that he violated Article 91 of the criminal code which forbids “undermining national independence and territorial integrity”.
Herrera Acosta was also found guilty of violating a law punishing activities that serve the “imperialist ends” of the United States, including working for foreign media, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
He was previously arrested on October 6, 1997, and sentenced to five years in prison for “illegally trying to leave the country” and “other offences against state security,” according to RSF. He was conditionally released on September 16, 2001, before being re-arrested in 2003.
Herrera Acosta is among over 20 journalists who were arrested in the March 2003 government-led crackdown on dissidents and still being held in prison. Mostly accused of being “mercenaries in the service of a foreign power”, they were reportedly handed down sentences from 14 to 27 years in prison.
Reports of harassment, intimidation and brutality towards the independent press have not diminished under Raul Castro, who took over as interim leader this year from his frail brother Castro.
In December 1956, the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara landed in Cuba from exile in Mexico with their fellow rebels on board the yacht Granma. This episode marked the start of the Castro revolution leading to the overthrow two years later of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.
This month, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of this event, RWF said that, since then, one dictatorship has given way to another and publicly condemned the jailing of journalists. The Cuban authorities have consistently denied human rights abuses and the existence of ‘dissidents’ on the Communist island, saying those persecuted are mainly “mercenaries” of the United States seeking to overthrow the government.