Amnesty International's findings show that the recent pattern of persecution has included short-term detentions, interrogations, summonses, official warnings, threats, intimidation, evictions, loss of employment, restrictions on travel, house searches, house arrests, telephone bugging and physical and verbal acts of abuse.

'This harassment is used not just against specific individuals known for their dissident activities, but to suppress larger protests and pro-change movements,' Amnesty International said.

The report reviews the human rights situation of a country where specific fundamental rights continue to be denied against the backdrop of a US economic embargo. After the 5 May 2002 release of dissident Vladimiro Roca, Amnesty International assesses that there are currently six prisoners of conscience (POCs) in Cuba, imprisoned solely for the non-violent expression of their beliefs.

Four of those POCs still in detention are:

- Bernardo Arevalo Padron, serving a six-year sentence for showing 'disrespect' towards President Fidel Castro and his vice-president after calling them 'liars' during an interview on a Miami radio station.

- Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez, serving a three-year sentence for hanging the Cuban flag upside down from his balcony during a press conference at his house.

- Francisco Chaviano Gonzalez, sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for revealing state secrets, during which he has been reportedly beaten on several occasions.

- Carlos Oquendo Rodriguez, sentenced to at least two years' imprisonment for 'public disorder' and 'disrespect' after having publicly criticised President Castro.

'Although the number of prisoners of conscience has decreased significantly, dissidents are still being targeted both by state officials and government supporters. It is high time the Cuban government stopped stifling non-violent dissent,' Amnesty International said, asking for all POCs to be released, for the laws that allowed their detention to be amended and for all forms of harassment of political dissidents and human rights activists to cease.

Amnesty International welcomes an unofficial moratorium on executions in Cuba, but notes that legislation allowing the death penalty is still in place and that some 50 people are still on death row. The organisation has received reports that death row prisoners have at times been subjected to poor conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

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