Cuban opposition activist found guilty of buying black-market cement, but freed on time servedBy Will Weissert, AP
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Cuban dissident found guilty, then freed
HAVANA — A Cuban court found prominent opposition leader Darsy Ferrer guilty of purchasing black-market cement Tuesday, but he was released on time served since it took nearly a year for his case to go to trial.
Human rights officials say Ferrer was arrested for a common crime that officials usually overlook — or punish with a simple fine — in an attempt to silence his criticism of the government.
Ferrer’s trial was closed to the media and most of the public, but his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, said he was found guilty of buying black-market building materials and then ordered released. He is supposed to serve the roughly four months remaining on his 15-month sentence at the couple’s Havana home.
“I think what happened inside was the fair outcome. It’s what we’ve waited for since the beginning,” Jorge told reporters outside the courthouse in the Cuban capital’s 10 de Octubre district. “We only wanted to repair our home.”
Ferrer was taken to a police station for processing then driven home, saying: “I’m going to enjoy this with my friends and family.”
From his Havana home, Ferrer said he was not giving up his activism for political change.
“I’m committed to freedom for the Cuban public,” he said. “Given the desperate situation, I’m going to keep pressing to win reforms.”
About 30 relatives and supporters, many of them self-described dissidents, gathered outside the courthouse for Tuesday’s proceedings, occasionally shouting “Liberty!” and anti-government slogans.
Diplomats from the United States, Britain and a few other nations stood in the shade of nearby trees, but they made no comment and left before the verdict. Cuban state security agents in plain clothes watched from surrounding street corners.
A physician, Ferrer is among Cuba’s most prominent dissidents. Like most of those, however, he is better known abroad than in his own country, where the state-run media almost never mention him.
In years past, he organized tiny street demonstrations to mark International Human Rights Day in December, but he had been in prison since July 21, 2009.
Ferrer said he felt sad for the country’s remaining political prisoners. He described his stint in jail as a way to “justify punishment by state security.”
The government controls nearly all construction under Cuba’s communist system and many people turn to private sources for quicker repairs. Cement and dozens of other building materials supplied that way are often pilfered from state stocks.
Ferrer and his wife said they obtained the cement to repair a collapsing wall in their home, and didn’t expect it to become a political issue.
Ferrer’s release after months in detention could add to signs Cuba’s government is softening its stance toward organized dissent.
The government of President Raul Castro recently promised Roman Catholic Church leaders to move political prisoners to facilities closer to home and to give better access to medical care for inmates who need it.
So far, 12 prisoners have been transferred and one, Ariel Sigler, was released for health reasons. Sigler was a boxer when he entered prison seven years ago, but now must use a wheelchair.
He was one of 75 leading community organizers, opposition activists and independent journalists arrested in March 2003 during a crackdown on dissent. They were charged with conspiring with Washington to destabilize Cuba’s government — charges both those arrested and U.S. authorities denied.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent, Havana-based National Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, says Cuba holds 180 political prisoners, a list that had included Ferrer.
Cuban officials say they hold no political prisoners and have the right to jail traitors.