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Number of Prisoners Drops in Cuba

July 17, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ The number of political prisoners in Cuba dropped slightly over the first six months of this year as the Cuban government opted to hold people for brief periods rather than give them long sentences, a leading human rights group said Monday.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that the organization’s latest survey showed 314 people were held for political reasons during the first half of 2000, down from 344 during the last six months of 1999.

The group is considered to be illegal in Cuba, but is tolerated by the government.

``After a slight increase in the second semester of 1999, this statistical drop could re-establish the positive tendency observed over the past 10 years that reduced the number of prisoners for political motives from more than 1,000 to several hundred,″ Sanchez said in a statement faxed to foreign news organizations.

It appears that the government of Cuba is substituting an earlier policy of long prison sentences for one that involves several hours, days or weeks, as well as warnings, he said.

The Cuban government maintains it holds no political prisoners, only common criminals.

Despite the drop, Sanchez said that Cuba ``continues to be the only closed society in the Western Hemisphere″ and the government ``continues to violate virtually all the civil and political rights of the citizenry.″

Sanchez, who himself spent many years in Cuban prisons, is among the island’s best known opposition activists.

The commission he heads issues a report on civil rights every six months, along with a list of people it considers to be imprisoned for political motives.

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