Cuba dissident and wife detained on way to CNN interview

Published 6:40 AM EDT, Tue March 22, 2016
Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles says he was detained for six hours on Monday
Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles says he was detained for six hours on Monday

Story highlights

Around 20 dissidents were rounded up that day, according to another activist

President Barack Obama is in Cuba for a historic three-day trip

Arrests made the same day Cuban leader Raul Castro denied keeping political prisoners

(CNN) —  

A Cuban dissident says he and his wife were arrested by the country’s secret police Monday as they were on their way to the CNN bureau for an interview.

Antonio Rodiles told CNN they were confronted by the police and arrested in what he calls a “violent way” after his wife chanted pro-democracy slogans. They were detained for at least six hours, he said.

READ: Obama arrives in Cuba; hopes visit will usher in change

“Twenty something dissidents were detained by Cuban authorities in Havana on Monday,” human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez told CNN by phone. It includes Berta Soler, the leader of “Ladies in White,” a dissident group formed by families of political prisoners.

According to Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, some of the dissidents were detained while arriving at Santa Rica Church where they had been scheduled to march in silence.

Soler, Rodiles and roughly 60 dissidents had also been detained for several hours on Sunday after participating in a march in Havana.

Rodiles adds that his movements are being tracked by the police. He expects to be part of the human rights group that will meet with President Barack Obama on Tuesday at the U.S. embassy.

Coincides with Obama visit

Obama is in Cuba on an historic three-day trip, the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited in 88 years.

On Monday, Cuban President Raul Castro denied having “political prisoners” when questioned by CNN’s Jim Acosta during a news conference alongside Obama.

According to Sanchez, there are 77 political dissidents in prison and another 11 under house arrest. These figures do not include the individuals rounded up and detained on Monday.

READ: Obama tells Raul Castro embargo is going to end

White House calls to end detentions

The White House says the practice of rounding up dissidents must end.

“We reiterate our call for the Cuban government to end the practice of arbitrary detentions,” National Security spokesman Ned Price said.

CNN’s Jim Acosta reported from Havana, Tiffany Ap wrote from Hong Kong. Antoine Sanfuentes and Kevin Liptak also contributed to this report.