Cuban security police detained seven dissidents who went to the Justice Ministry on Thursday to demand better conditions for Cuba’s political prisoners.
The demonstrators, led by prominent dissident leader Martha Beatriz Roque, were pushed and yelled at by a group of 100 government supporters sent to quell the protest, and then put on a bus and driven home, Roque said.
“I was scratched, pushed and insulted,” she said by telephone from her Havana home. “There was no need to resort to violence.”
Roque handed in a letter at the ministry demanding that Cuba’s Communist authorities improve the jail conditions for political prisoners. She and her group then stood outside waiting for a reply.
Veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said more than a dozen other dissidents were picked up by state security police—some in their homes—before they could join the protest. He was not sure they had all been freed.
“We are demanding that the political prisoners be treated with dignity, because they are human beings, and besides, they are innocent,” Roque, an economist who has twice been jailed for several years for criticizing Cuba’s one-party state.
Sanchez said there are 250 Cubans in prison for political reasons, though the number has dropped since ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed over the government to his brother Raul after intestinal surgery last year.
Most prisoners lack hygienic cells, clean water, adequate food and medical attention, he said, and many are ill.
The government denies there are political prisoners in Cuba and does not recognize the existence of dissidents. Instead, it labels them “counter-revolutionary mercenaries” on the payroll of the United States, its ideological arch-enemy.