Cuban Political Prisoners Increase by 1

Political prisoners held in Cuba increased by one to 206 in the past six months, the first time the number has not dropped sharply since Raul Castro took over running the communist country three years ago.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation
said Monday that the increase compares to 205 in late January and
219 last summer.

"It's the first time in two decades that the number of prisoners has not fallen," said commission head Elizardo Sanchez.

Sanchez repeated his complaint that police still use brief detentions to intimidate the political opposition - although those detentions fell by two-thirds in the past six months.

The latest prisoner list includes Darsi Ferrer, a physician who
organizes tiny Havana street protests to mark International Human
Rights Day each December.

Ferrer was arrested July 21 for obtaining black-market building
materials to repair his home in a country where the state controls
nearly all construction.

Sanchez acknowledged that Ferrer's charges were not political
but said officials wanted to stop his work protesting Cuba's
single-party communist rule.

"They're trying to take him out of circulation," Sanchez said in a phone interview.

Numbers of Cuban political prisoners had fallen notably every six months since Raul Castro took over for ailing older brother, Fidel - temporarily in July 2006 and then as president in February 2008. But Sanchez said numbers of such prisoners also have been slowly declining for about 20 years.

Fidel Castro said he held 15,000 political prisoners in 1964. Cuban officials now say they do not hold political prisoners and dismiss opposition activists as "mercenaries," who take money from the U.S. government to destabilize the communist system.

Sanchez's commission is funded by international human rights
organizations.


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