Amnesty International this week implored the Castro regime to explain why it continues to hold political prisoner Jorge Vasquez Chaviano in its gulag, even though he has completed his sentenced. The dictatorship's obstinancy sparked a mass hunger strike by at least 26 dissidents, including former political prisoners Martha Beatriz Roque and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez.
The Cuban authorities must either explain why they failed to release detainee Jorge Vázquez Chaviano as scheduled on September 9 or let him go immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said amid an ongoing hunger strike by 26 dissidents in solidarity with their colleague.
Vázquez Chaviano, who is a member of the organization “Central Opposition Coalition” (Coalición Central Opositora), was charged with “unlawful economic activities” and sentenced to 18 months “correctional work without internment” in March 2011.
He believed the sentence to be politically motivated and a means of punishing his dissident activities.
“The justice system in Cuba is highly arbitrary and unfair for those deemed to be dissidents, but the failure to release prisoners on completion of their sentence is unusual and this is a worrying development,” said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher for Amnesty International.
“Unless the authorities are able to immediately explain on what grounds they have refused to release Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, Amnesty International calls on them to immediately and unconditionally release him, and to cease the harassment of his family,” Ducos said.
Vázquez Chaviano was arrested on March 27 this year when he tried to travel from his home in the province of Villa Clara to attend an open air mass said by Pope Benedict XVI in Havana, and was forced to serve the remaining six months of his sentence behind bars.
Since September 9 came and went, he is not believed to have been charged with a new offense or have been re-sentenced, nor has any reason been given by the authorities as to why he has not been released after completing his sentence. He is imprisoned at “Alambradas de Manacas” prison in Villa Clara Province.
Jorge’s wife and mother were detained along with several supporters on September 10 in their hometown of Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara Province, when they demonstrated for his release. His wife was held for 24 hours before being released and warned not to speak out publicly again. Vázquez Chaviano began a hunger strike after hearing he would remain incarcerated and 26 other people across the island have since joined him, calling for his release and for greater civil and political freedoms in Cuba.
The group includes 67 year-old Martha Beatriz Pérez Roque, head of the Cuban Network of Community Communicators (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios) and a former prisoner of conscience, who is reported to be seriously ill.
“Given the government’s control of the justice system and media, and the repression of public protest, the only recourse dissidents feel they have to make their voice heard is to go on hunger strike,” said Gerardo Ducos.
Since 2010, two prisoners of conscience, Wilman Villar Mendoza and Orlando Zapata Tamayo have died in custody while on hunger strike, protesting their unfair incarceration.