Tuesday, 12 June 2007 | By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent | BosNewsLife.com
Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque remains jailed amid concerns about his health.
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)—One of Cuba’s leading “prisoners of conscience” remained detained Tuesday, June 12, despite growing concern about his health due to “inhumane prison conditions,” his family and dissidents told BosNewsLife.
Speaking by telephone from Las Mangas prison in eastern Cuba, Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque told his mother, Moralinda Paneque, that he was taken to hospital after experiencing “an excruciating pain in the abdomen,” BosNewsLife learned.
“Through an ultrasound, the prison doctors diagnosed him with having a cyst on the upper region of his bladder,” his family and fellow dissidents said in a statement.
The physician, journalist and librarian was among nearly 80 people, including active Christians, who were arrested as part of a crackdown on dissidents in 2003. Dr. Garcia Paneque, 42, was eventually sentenced to 24 years in prison on charges of “serving foreign powers,” under laws governing the protection of the Cuban State.
Human rights groups linked the sentencing to his pro-democracy activities in the 1990s and his involvement in founding the independent Libertad news agency. He also supported an independent network of librarians providing access to books banned in Cuba, including literature by authors such as Martin Luther King and George Orwell, human rights watchers said.
Dr. Garcia Paneque’s latest health problems came after dissidents and family members claimed that his weight dropped from 86 kilograms (189 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) because of “intestinal mal absorption syndrome”, that causes him to suffer from severe chronic diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
In a statement, his family and dissidents said “poor conditions in prison” were to blame for his deteriorating health as he “must consume food in poor state, does not go out in the sun” and “is under great psychological stress due to beatings, harassment, humiliations and ill treatment he is receiving from common prisoners with whom he is confined.”
Convicted criminals have allegedly been instigated by what activists called “political police” to attack political prisoners of conscience.
Dr. Garcia Paneque’s wife and four children said they were unable to visit the frail dissident after they were “forced to seek exile in the United States on March 8” this year “due to violent acts of repudiation” carried out by mobs linked to the Cuban State Security agency around their house in Cuba’s southern Las Tunas province.
Earlier, in August 2006, an angry crowd of about 100 people ranging from children to elderly Cubans armed with sticks, stones, and parasols, reportedly surrounded and attacked the family’s home while Dr. Paneque’s wife and his children stayed inside.
The mob, apparently on orders of Cuba’s Communist leadership, threatened to burn down the house while shouting “Get out of here!”, “Assassins!”, and “Terrorists!”, according to human rights observers.
His family have made an “urgent appeal” to the international community to force Cuba to ensure “the physical and psychological well being” of the Cuban physician, “who is unjustly imprisoned in a maximum security prison for defending the Universal Declaration of Human rights in his own country.”
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has denied human rights abuses and the existence of “dissidents” in his country. He has described the jailed activists as “mercenaries of the United States” who allegedly “oppose” his Revolution.