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Cuba Gives Democracy Backers Prison Time

February 19, 2003

HAVANA (AP) _ A Cuban court has sentenced two supporters of the pro-democracy Varela Project to 18 months in prison for contempt and resisting arrest, organizers of the reform movement said.

Jesus Mustafa Felipe, 58, and Robert Montero, 32, were sentenced Tuesday by a provincial court in the eastern city of Palma Soriano, said a statement by the Christian Liberation Movement, whose founder is a top Varela Project organizer.

The statement did not provide details about the incident that led to the charges and organizers could not be immediately reached for comment.

There was no immediate comment by the government.

The contempt charge is generally applied for acts considered disrespectful to Cuban leaders, symbols or institutions.

In the past it has been used for those accused of publishing or broadcasting insults against President Fidel Castro and other senior government officials, as well as for hanging the national flag upside down in a sign of civil protest.

Christian Liberation Movement founder Oswaldo Paya is a top organizer of the Varela Project, which seeks a referendum on several laws that would guarantee civil liberties such as freedom of speech, assembly and the right to private business ownership. The government has shelved the Varela Project’s request for the voters’ initiative.

Castro’s government refers to the island’s dissidents as ``counterrevolutionaries″ and accuses them of being on the U.S. government payroll _ a charge the opponents deny.

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