Cuba’s ‘Ladies in White’ at Risk of Beatings and Intimidation, Says Amnesty International

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Cuba’s ‘Ladies in White’ at Risk of Beatings and Intimidation, Says Amnesty International

WASHINGTON - Amnesty
International urged Cuban President Raúl Castro to ensure the safety of
a group of female relatives of prisoners of conscience ahead of a scheduled
demonstration today.

The call came after a protest by the Damas
de Blanco
(ladies in white) was forcibly broken up by Cuban police
yesterday, who briefly detained several women.  

After the incident, some of the women said
they had been beaten by the police. They include Reyna Tamayo, mother of
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on February 22, 2010, having spent several
weeks on hunger strike to demand the release of prisoners of conscience.

"The Cuban authorities must stop repressing
legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice
and exercising their freedom of expression," said Kerrie Howard, deputy
director of the Americas at Amnesty International. "Instead, they should
review their repressive legislation and release all those who have been
detained for years sentenced in summary trials on charges that are often
baseless."

The Damas de Blanco, an unofficial
group of women relatives and friends of individuals imprisoned around a
major crackdown around March 18, 2003, have organized daily demonstrations
in Havana during the week of the seventh anniversary of the arrests. 53
of those arrested in March 2003 continue to be detained.

Since the start of their campaign, members
of the Damas de Blanco have been victims of threats and intimidation
by Cuban security officials.

On March 15, state security officials visited
Soledad Riva's home and advised her against taking part in the events
organized by the Damas de Blanco. The officials warned her that
if she took part in a demonstration she could risk being beaten and would
not see her children again. Her children live abroad and Soledad has been
seeking an exit visa to visit them, which so far has not been granted by
Cuban authorities.

Soledad Rivas' husband is a former prisoner
of conscience Roberto de Miranda Hernández, a demonstrator who was detained
in March 2003 but released in June 2004 on health grounds.

On March 16, several members of the Damas
de Blanco
were intimidated by government supporters during a march
they had organized to call for the release of their relatives in prison.

Government supporters shouted insults at
them and physically assaulted William Cepero Garcia, a man supporting the
protest. Hugo Damian Prieto and Juan Carlos Vasallo, two men who were supporting
the demonstration, were detained.

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