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Cuban dissident arrested after testifying for senators

By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Wed June 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Knowing risk, Jorge Luis García Pérez testified to Congress via video link last week
  • Cuban dissidents "suffer beatings, torture and ... violations of our human rights," he testified
  • After his testimony he was arrested and severely beaten by authorities, he wife said

(CNN) -- A Cuban dissident who testified before Congress via video link from Havana last week was detained and beaten two days later, his wife said.

Reached by phone in Cuba, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera said her husband was beaten in his cell and rendered unconscious by pepper spray.

In spite of being warned of the risk of reprisals, Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, testified last Thursday, describing repressive conditions for dissidents in Cuba. "We suffer beatings," he told the senators, "torture, and all kinds of violations of our human rights." In one activist's case, he asserted, "the political police threatened to sexually abuse and rape her 6-year-old daughter." He pleaded for support for what he called "the resistance forces," as they engage in "a head-on battle with the state."

By Friday, according to his wife, their house was surrounded, and on Saturday Antúnez was arrested.

Once he was in custody, she claimed, he was beaten. Then, she said, "the authorities came into his cell, and sprayed him inside the mouth with pepper spray, which cause him to lose consciousness" for 15 minutes. According to another activist who was also incarcerated, she said, "the state security agents told him, when they were attacking him, that he was going to pay very dearly for what he did."

Representatives for the Cuban government in Havana, Washington, and New York did not reply to requests for comment.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, who chaired the panel, said he warned the witnesses that they were taking a risk, and the committee did not disclose in advance the fact that dissidents would be testifying from Havana. And as the hearing came to a close, the senator warned Cuba against reprisals.

But Sen. Menendez said he was aware that the witnesses could still be in danger -- especially when he saw who else was in attendance.

"There were members of the Castro regime at our hearing, who were in the audience," he said. "They were taking notes."

Still, Aguilera said her husband does not regret testifying.

"He knew that some kind of repression would be brought against him for doing so," she said. "However, he wanted to do it."

She said Antúnez, who is now 47, has been imprisoned a total of 17 years, off and on, by Cuban authorities since 1983.

Aguilera said she too had been detained and beaten, when she went to the police station seeking her husband. She has since been released, she said, but her husband is still being held by Cuban authorities in Santa Clara.

CNN's Patrick Oppman and Joann Sierra contributed to this report

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