By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
Cuba has unexpectedly released four opponents of President Fidel Castro (news - web sites) who were held for more than two years without trial, dissidents said on Wednesday.
The four men, who belonged to different dissident groups, were set free on Tuesday after 27 months in prison.
Leonardo Bruzon, Emilio Leyva, Lazaro Rodriguez and opposition journalist Carlos Alberto Dominguez were arrested on Feb. 22, 2002, and charged with inciting public disorder.
They had tried to organize memorial ceremonies to honor four Florida-based Cuban exiles killed when Cuban fighter jets shot down their two small planes near the island in February 1996.
“They told me to go home and stay out of trouble,” Leyva, 38, told Reuters at his home. “But they have no moral authority, because they jailed me arbitrarily.”
International rights groups campaigned for the release of Bruzon, a 49-year-old former librarian, after he went on hunger strike to demand a trial. President Bush (news - web sites) mentioned him last year in a speech on Cuba.
Bruzon’s health deteriorated in prison, where he went on hunger strike four times. In April he was transferred to a hospital weighing 85 pounds (39 kg), he said.
Bruzon vowed to keep fighting human rights abuses under communist rule. “I want to continue fighting for the defense of human rights in Cuba,” he said on Tuesday at his home in Havana.
Leyva and Rodriguez belonged to the small Pro Human Rights Party, which is affiliated with the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, a rights group named after the former Soviet dissident.
Cuba labels all dissidents as “counter-revolutionaries” on the payroll of the United States. Last year, Castro ordered the arrest of 75 dissidents in the harshest crackdown in decades. They were given stiff jail sentences of up to 28 years.
Another 16 have been jailed in the last two months.
Veteran Cuban rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said the decision to free the four, made at the highest level of the Cuban government, did not indicate any change of policy.
“These releases are a positive step, but there is no reason to believe the government has dropped its ultra-repressive approach toward its opponents,” Sanchez said. He said more than 300 people remain imprisoned in Cuba for political reasons.