Cuba arrests seven dissidents

June 21st, 2008 - 1:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Havana, June 21 (IANS) Cuban authorities have arrested seven opposition activists a day after the European Union (EU) lifted its 2003 sanctions it imposed on the country to protest the government’s crackdown on dissidents. The protesters, led by Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as “Antunez”, were detained Friday during a demonstration outside an interior ministry office in Mantazas, east of Havana, opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque told Spain’s EFE news agency.

The arrests followed Thursday’s decision by the 27-member EU to scrap the political sanctions it imposed on Havana in 2003 after the government arrested dissidents known as the Group of 75 and initiate a dialogue with the communist country.

“They were holding a protest for the beating given to the brother of Iris (Perez, Antunez’s wife) in Ag├╝ica prison,” Roque said. “So far, we haven’t heard any more about them.”

Antunez was taken into custody along with his wife and five other people, Roque said.

She noted that Antunez had been briefly detained on several occasions in the past few months, most recently May 24, when police broke up a demonstration he was leading in honour of the late Pedro Luis Boitel, a government opponent who died in a Cuban prison.

Roque, one of 20 of the Group of 75 who were subsequently released on medical grounds, told EFE earlier Friday the EU’s decision was unwarranted given that 55 of the original group were still in jail.

The EU foreign ministers Thursday said they were lifting the sanctions to facilitate a political dialogue that is “reciprocal, unconditional, non-discriminatory and oriented on achieving results” within the framework of the “changes begun by President Raul Castro”, who replaced ailing older brother Fidel in February.

The decision to scrap the sanctions will be reviewed in 12 months.

At the urging of the Czech Republic, one of the governments most opposed to lifting of the sanctions, the text included a “renewed commitment” to the EU’s “common position” that dialogue with the Cuban authorities must always be accompanied by conversations with the opposition.

The EU also pledged to emphasize to the Cuban government “its point of view on democracy, universal human rights and fundamental liberties” and to ask Havana to respect the freedom of expression and information.

EU representatives will likewise press Cuba for “the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including those who were arrested and imprisoned in 2003.”

Opposition groups say the Cuban government is holding around 225 political prisoners in jail.

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