Ten Cuban dissidents to be released 'soon': church official

10th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Ten Cuban dissidents will be freed and will travel to Spain "soon," as part of an unusual prisoner release negotiated by the Cuban Roman Catholic church, a church official said Saturday.

Under the agreement, 52 political prisoners will eventually be freed, but the initial release had been expected to include just five detainees.

On Thursday, the church announced the names of five prisoners it said would be freed imminently, but by Saturday they were all apparently still behind bars.

The families of the five told AFP they had been contacted by authorities and told to be prepared to travel after their relatives were released.

On Saturday, the Archbishop of Havana said in a statement that another five detainees would be "leaving soon to Spain" as part of "the continuation of the process of prisoner releases."

All 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.

The release, the biggest this decade, was announced after unprecedented talks between President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was in Cuba this week to participate in the negotiations, said Madrid was willing to receive all the freed prisoners.

But the church said prisoners will not be forced to go to Spain, calling it a "proposal" and not "exile," as some in opposition activists charge.

The release agreement prompted opposition activist Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist, to abandon a 135-day hunger strike protesting the treatment of political prisoners.

It has also been praised by Washington, which said the release was long overdue but welcome.

Some dissidents want to seek medical care in Spain before returning to Cuba; others expect to stay in Spain, according to Elizardo Sanchez, of the outlawed information clearinghouse Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Moratinos said Castro pledged that the dissidents would be allowed to return to Cuba with special permits, and would not lose their property in Cuba, as is the normal case for those who emigrate.

© 2010 AFP

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