Tags: Cuba | crackdown | dissident | death

Cuba Launches Crackdown After Striker's Death

Wednesday, 24 Feb 2010 10:25 PM


HAVANA - Cuban security agents have detained dissidents across the country to prevent protests at the funeral of a leading dissident who died on a prison hunger strike.

Cuban president Raul Castro says he regrets the death of Orlando Zapata and denies the rights activist had been tortured.

"There were no tortured people. There was no execution," he said. "That is what happens at Guantanamo."

But Mr Zapata's mother Reina Luisa Tamayo says her son's death was a "premeditated murder".

"My son was tortured the whole time he was in prison," she said.

Mr Zapata, 42, was buried in his hometown of Banes, 830 kilometres east of Havana, after a wake at his mother's home.

"I call on the international community to demand the release of the rest of the [political] prisoners ... so that what happened to my boy does not happen again," Ms Tamayo said.

Mr Zapata's death 85 days into a hunger strike over prison conditions drew international condemnation and calls for an investigation and the release of all political prisoners.

But the government's initial reaction appeared to be to move swiftly against other dissidents.

Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation spokesman Elizardo Sanchez says security agents detained about 30 activists Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Some also have been held in their houses, without a judicial warrant, to prevent people from going to the wake," he said.

Mr Sanchez says dissidents have been rounded up in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Las Tunas and Camaguey, all in the east, and in the central city of Placetas.

Mr Sanchez says it was the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban opposition figure has died while on a hunger strike.

"[Mr Zapata's death] is bad news for the human rights movement and for the government as well," Mr Sanchez said.

A Havana Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital spokesman says Mr Zapata died at 1:00 pm (local time) on Tuesday after a nearly three-month protest against prison conditions.

He had been in jail since 2003 and blamed his already deteriorating health on harsh conditions inside Cuba's jails.

Mr Zapata was transferred from a local clinic in the eastern province of Camaguey, near his prison, to the capital's largest hospital on Monday.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley says Mr Zapata's death "highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should be released without delay"

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

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