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Huber Matos: The Night Has Come

Huber Matos, who was Amnesty’s first Cuban prisoner of conscience, has died aged 95. Matos was a schoolteacher who became an army commander in the revolutionary forces fighting to overthrow the Batista government. However, he disagreed with Fidel Castro on the political road Cuba should travel down; Castro favoured communism, Matos felt this represented a betrayal of the revolution’s democratic principles.

Matos was arrested on 21 October 1959 and convicted of sedition, spending twenty years in jail. His autobiography How the Night Came describes his imprisonment and the torture to which he was subjected.  On his release in 1979 he was exiled to Costa Rica and campaigned for human rights and social justice to be placed at the heart of a multi-party democracy in Cuba.

Peter Benenson first used the term “prisoner of conscience” (POC) in his 1961 Observer article The Forgotten Prisoners. He defined a POC as “any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing (in any form of words or symbols) any opinion which he honestly holds and which does not advocate or condone personal violence”. This can include religious views, race, and in Matos’s case, his political stance.

Since Huber Matos’s imprisonment, Amnesty has campaigned for scores of Cuban POCs and currently recognises five people with prisoner of conscience status. Already this year, the government in Cuba has clamped down severely on peaceful demonstrations. Freedom of expression remains difficult, but Huber Matos imagined, one day, returning to be buried in a free land.

I want to return to Cuba from the same land whose people always showed me solidarity and affection, I want to rest in the earth of Costa Rica until Cuba is free and from there go to Yara, to accompany my mother and reunite with my father, and with Cubans.”

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