Cuban dissidents kept from political prisoner's funeral, activists say
From Shasta Darlington, CNN
February 24, 2010 — Updated 2044 GMT (0444 HKT)
* Dissidents detained when they tried to attend political prisoner's
funeral, rights activists say
* Orlando Zapata Tamayo died Tuesday after a hunger strike of more than
* Raul Castro blames death on Cuba's relationship with the United States
* Amnesty International demands release of Cuba's "prisoners of conscience"
Havana, Cuba (CNN) — Cuban President Raul Castro said Wednesday he
regretted the death of a prisoner after a prolonged hunger strike, even
as human rights activists reported 30 people were detained on the way to
the dissident's funeral.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was jailed in 2003 in a crackdown on
political opposition, died Tuesday after a hunger strike that lasted for
more than 80 days. He began the strike to demand better prison conditions.
According to an unprecedented government statement, Castro "lamented the
death of Cuban prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after leading a
hunger strike." He blamed the United States for the death, but did not
"Tortured people do not exist," Castro added. "There were no tortured
people. There was no execution."
Separately, about 30 Cuban dissidents were detained Wednesday and dozens
of others were blocked from leaving their homes, human rights activist
Elizardo Sanchez said.
"All of this to prevent them from attending the funeral of Orlando
Zapata Tamayo," he said. "It's not what we wanted, but the government
has turned him into a martyr."
Zapata, 42, died in Havana. His body was flown to the eastern province
of Holguin for burial.
In Havana, a couple dozen friends and activists donned black armbands
and held a symbolic wake at the small home of dissident Laura Pollan.
"I knew Zapata and I knew he wasn't going to give in," said Belkis
Balzac Lugo, one of the Ladies in White, wives and relatives of
She said she had been concerned Cuban authorities were "going to let him
Her brother, like Zapata, was one of about 75 dissidents rounded up and
jailed in a 2003 crackdown on political opposition.
"But we aren't going to be deterred by this," Balzac Lugo told CNN.
In Washington, the State Department expressed its condolences.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of his death, and the U.S. government
extends its heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends and supporters,"
Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said in a statement. "Mr.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding
more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay."
U.S. officials meeting in Havana last week to discuss immigration issues
brought up Zapata Tamayo's incarceration and precarious health, Crowley
said. The United States "urged them to provide all necessary medical
care," he added.
Dissidents said Zapata had demanded a separate cell from common
criminals and the right to have his family bring in food.
Tortured people do not exist. There were no tortured people. There was
–Cuban President Raul Castro
* Amnesty International
His health deteriorated and he was transferred to a Havana prison last
week. He was hospitalized this week.
"If they could have saved Zapata and they didn't, the same thing could
happen to any of our jailed brothers," Niurkis Rivera said at the
symbolic wake in Havana.
According to dissidents, it was the first time in years that a political
prisoner had died behind bars.
Amnesty International said in a statement that Zapata was jailed for
disorderly conduct, among other crimes. His initial three-year sentence
was repeatedly extended as officials said he accrued new penalties for
infractions while in prison.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International demanded the release of all
"prisoners of conscience" in Cuba.
"The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of
the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being
freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration," said Gerardo
Ducos, Amnesty International's Caribbean researcher.
Cuba says there are no political prisoners in the nation. The Cuban
government calls many of the dissidents "mercenaries" being paid by the
United States and other countries to undermine the government.
Cuban dissidents kept from political prisoner's funeral, activists say –
CNN.com (24 February 2010)