Cuban dissidents' trial stretches into the night
Activists, reporters held in roundup
March 1, 1999
HAVANA (CNN) -- Security forces detained dozens of local activists and journalists and blocked international diplomats from attending the high-profile trial of four dissidents Monday.
The hearings outlining the evidence against the four continued late into the evening Monday. Prosecutors' spokesman Rafael Pino Becker said he didn't know how long they would last.
"It's obvious the system can't stand the scrutiny, even from several blocks away. It's not a very good day for Cuban justice," said senior U.S. diplomat Michael Kozak after police escorted him away from the area near the Havana Tribunal. Kozak heads the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.
Cuban rights' groups said that by early afternoon, 39 opposition activists and dissident journalists had been detained, with another 37 held in their homes, in a roundup that began on Friday and continued through the weekend.
Among the detainees were eight local journalists who were being held to prevent them from covering the trial, according to the Paris-based press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.
The detentions appeared to be a temporary measure to prevent activists from attending the start of the trial of the so- called "Group of Four."
Vladimiro Roca, 56, a former fighter pilot in Castro's Revolutionary Armed Forces and the son of deceased communist hero Blas Roca, economist Marta Beatriz Roque, 53, academic Felix Bonne, 59, and lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, 55, all have been jailed for the past 19 months.
The defendants were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document that they said did not present solutions to Cuba's severe economic problems.
They also are accused of encouraging Cubans not to vote in that year's elections, holding two news conferences with international press, exhorting international businessmen not to invest in Cuba and asking Cuban exiles to encourage their kin on the island to undertake acts of civil disobedience.
The Castro government denies it holds prisoners of conscience and labels the four, as it does other opposition figures, "counter-revolutionary" criminals backed by its international enemies.
While there was no information on what was going on inside the court, dissident sources reported a wave of detentions going on around Havana.
"Raul left the house a while back, and now he's disappeared. I assume they've taken him," said Blanca Reyes, wife of dissident poet and journalist Raul Rivero, who heads the largest independent news agency, Cuba Press. That organization operates without authorization outside the state-controlled media.
Reporters Without Borders, which is known by its French initials RSF, said Rivero was one of six employees of Cuba Press to be detained in the current crackdown.
"RSF believes that these arrests represent a serious attack on press freedom and asks the Cuban government that these journalists be released immediately," the group said in a statement.
There was no official confirmation of the detentions, but some dissident sources termed the roundup the most significant operation of its kind since the 1996 break-up of a nascent organization, Concilio Cubano. That organization tried to unite opposition groups.
Also, there was concern that some of those held could be charged under draconian new anti-subversion legislation Cuba passed earlier in February.
"We hope these lamentable detentions are just temporary ... I wish they could just resolve this in a civilized manner," said Gerardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Kozak and other diplomats from Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden, Japan and Britain, together with some 20 international reporters, began arriving for the trial at around 7 a.m. local time (1200 GMT).
But they were prevented from getting near the court by police, who cordoned off streets and watched them carefully. Asked by Kozak on whose orders observers were being moved, a security official said: "Revolutionary authorities."
Kozak's verbal protest was then answered by: "That doesn't interest me."
"I'm here simply to show some solidarity with good people working for change," Kozak told reporters.
Family members of the four defendants were allowed into the trial and those entering the court said they were praying for acquittal.
"My hope is to take Vladimiro home with me when I leave here," said Magaly de Armas, wife of Vladimiro Roca, as she entered. "Let justice be done, and for me justice is synonymous with freedom."
Correspondent Lucia Newman and Reuters contributed to this report.
Cuban dissidents on trial amid heavy security
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.