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For Immediate Release
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Cuba: Stop Harassing Human Rights Defender and Family

Authorities Threaten Enforced Relocation Under Draconian Law


The Cuban government should immediately cease its harassment of the blind human rights defender Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a leader of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs, and his family, Human Rights Watch said today.

In recent weeks, Cuban authorities have repeatedly threatened to force Gonzalez Leiva and his wife and fellow rights defender Tania Maceda Guerra to leave Havana and move elsewhere on the island. The authorities have pressed for the move under a draconian law that restricts freedom of movement.

"The harassment of Gonzalez Leiva offers further proof that the Raul Castro government is willing to do everything within its power to prevent human rights monitoring, including forcibly displacing the monitors themselves," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Gonzalez Leiva and Maceda Guerra have lived in Havana since May 2007, when they were granted permission to live with and care for a blind friend. Under a law known as Decree 217, all Cuban citizens from outside of Havana must obtain government permission before moving to the capital.

In November 2009, the government denied the couple's application to renew their temporary residence status in Havana, where they are still living with their blind friend. Gonzalez Leiva said housing authorities told him the refusal came at the orders of state security officers.

Since that time, security officers have repeatedly visited their home, calling them "counterrevolutionaries" and "traitors," and warning that they will be forcibly sent back to their native province, Ciego de Avila, if they do not leave Havana voluntarily. As a result, they have not left their apartment in a week.

Gonzalez Leiva and Maceda Guerra have also been the victims of death threats and public acts of repudiation. Over the past several months, the email account of their organization has been hacked into and terminated, their movements monitored, and their family members threatened, Gonzalez Leiva told Human Rights Watch.

"The international community needs to send a clear message to the Cuban government that such attacks on human rights defenders are completely unacceptable," Vivanco said.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch - "New Castro, Same Cuba: Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era" - found that Raul Castro has kept Cuba's repressive machinery fully active, quashing virtually all forms of political dissent. The report documents the government's continued use of Decree 217 to restrict the freedom of movement of journalists, human rights defenders, and other members of civil society who criticize the government.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.