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Visit of Foreign Minister Dalmau Fernández's to the UK -- Amnesty International asks for release of prisoners of conscience

Several hundred political prisoners are being held in Cuba, most of whom were convicted after unfair trials Twenty eight of these have been recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience

'The Cuban government must address several key concerns as a matter of urgency,' Amnesty International said. 'These range from political prisoners being held after manifestly unfair trials, severe limitations of freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and punitive measures amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.'

Freedom of expression, association and assembly are severely limited in Cuba, both in law and in practice. Those who attempt to organise meetings, express views or form organisations conflicting with government policy are subjected to harassment and punitive measures that can include short-term detention, interrogation, threats and physical and verbal acts of aggression carried out by government supporters.

'The Cuban government must lift all restrictive measures and put an end to practices impeding freedom of speech, association and assembly,'

Amnesty International said.

Concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba have seriously increased after the introduction in February 1999 of tough new legislation ostensibly aimed at protecting the Cuban economy from the effects of 38

years of embargo by the US. This new legislation could also easily lend itself to efforts to stifle political dissent, providing for a penalty of up to 20 years' imprisonment for a series of offences. For the eighth year running, the United Nations General Assembly called overwhelmingly in its November 1999 meeting for an end to the embargo against Cuba.

According to reports, political prisoners and others have been subjected to punitive measures that include the withholding of food or medical attention, detention in cells with no light or bedding, threats,

discrimination, verbal abuse and at times beatings. All of these constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by international standards.

Amnesty International is also concerned about a recent increase in the use of the death penalty particularly after the introduction in March 1999

of new legislation imposing this punishment for serious cases of drug-trafficking, corruption of minors and armed robbery. At least 13

people were executed in 1999 and at least nine people reportedly remain on death row.

'We hope that, on his return to Cuba, the vice Foreign Minister will convey to the Cuban government the importance of demonstrating its commitment to human rights by releasing all prisoners of conscience,'

Amnesty International said.

'The Cuban government could also show a true commitment to improve its human rights record by being open to international supervision -- including providing access to the country for international human rights organisations,' the organisation concluded.

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