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Some Cuban Prisoners Reported Free

February 11, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Cuba has freed several dissidents, but the move does not appear to be related to the pope’s call for prisoner releases, a leading human rights activist said Wednesday.

The action is ``coincidental,″ to Pope John Paul II’s appeal last month, said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

In a telephone interview from Havana, Sanchez said he expected a larger prisoner release soon.

Sanchez said Cuba dropped jail sentences for six members of the small, illegal Party for Human Rights in the west-central city of Santa Clara. Other reports said seven had been released.

All had been on a liquid diet of protest since October, though one woman, Roxana Carpio, ended her fast some time ago because she was pregnant.

The dissidents had been sentenced to as much as 18 months in prison for charges including disobeying authority, abusing an official and illegal association.

Four had been jailed and three were under house arrest.

Sanchez, whose group monitors political prisoners in Cuba, said he was told the government had asked the prisoners to leave the country, but it wasn’t clear if that was a condition of their release.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin called the released ``woefully inadequate″ in light of what the pope had requested.

``These are a very small number. There are dozens of political prisoners in Cuba, and we would like to see them all released, not just those who have conducted hunger strikes,″ Rubin said.

Those freed included Carpio and her sister, Daula Carpio, Jose Antonio Alvarado, Lilian Meneses, Iliana Penalver and Jose Manuel. The Mexican news agency Notimex reported that Ivan Lemus was also freed.

The pope called on Cuba to release its ``prisoners of conscience″ during his visit last month. His aides reportedly gave Cuban officials a list of prisoners who had asked the pontiff to appeal on their behalf.

Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon responded by saying there could be sentence reductions or early releases on humanitarian grounds for aged or ill prisoners convicted of common crimes or other offenses.

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