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Cuba: 'Ferry Hijacker' Executions Mark Further Human Rights Deterioration

'The executions are extremely worrying - not only because they signal the end of Cuba's widely-heralded de facto moratorium on executions, but because the men were given a summary trial, and their appeals to the supreme court and the Council of State were dealt with in a cursory and wholly inadequate manner.

'They were shot and killed less than a week after their trial began.

'Coming on the heels of the mass arrest and summary trials of at least 75 Cuban dissidents - most of whom received shockingly lengthy prison terms ranging up to 28 years - these executions mark a serious erosion in Cuba's human rights record.

There is no justification for executions, particularly following summary trials. Over the last four weeks, Cuba has reversed significant human rights progress made over a period of years. We are seeing a return to the extremely repressive measures of Cuba decades ago.'

The three men, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, were among a group who reportedly hijacked a Cuban ferry with several dozen passengers on board on 2 April, and tried to force it to the United States. The incident, the third hijacking in two weeks in Cuba, ended without bloodshed, after several days' stand-off between Cuban security forces and the hijackers.

Currently there are at least 50 people on death row in Cuba. Amnesty International is concerned that these people may also face imminent execution given that the moratorium has ended; the organisation is calling on the authorities to urgently commute all pending death sentences.

Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla and Jorge Luis Martínez were convicted of terrorism under 1991's Law 93, which expanded existing anti-terrorism measures and reaffirmed the use of the death penalty in the most extreme cases. Another four hijackers received life sentences, while four others received shorter prison terms.

In an official statement on the executions on 11 April, the Cuban government claimed that it was undergoing serious provocations and threats to its national security emanating from the United States.

Relevant information:

'Cuba: Biggest crackdown on dissent in a decade' press release (4 April 2003)

'Cuba/USA: Ferry hijack - brutal response must be avoided' press release (3 April 2003)

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