Updated, Jan. 19, 2014 -- Rafael Matos Montes de Oca was released from prison on Jan. 14, 2014.
Amnesty International has named five members of the same opposition group, including three brothers, as Cuba's newest prisoners of conscience.
The prisoners, activists with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, or UNPACU are:
- Emilio Planas Robert
- Rafael Matos Montes de Oca
- Alexeis Vargas Martín
- Vianco Vargas Martín
- Django Vargas Martín
Cuban police In Guantanamo arrested Planas and Matos on two different days in September 2012 and accused them of putting up anti-Castro posters declaring "down with Fidel" and "down with hunger." Although police found no incriminating evidence in their homes, they were charged with "dangerousness," a catch-all "crime" the dictatorship frequently uses to target its opponents.
The next month, Planas and Matos were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison -- 3 1/2 years for Planas and 2 1/2 years for Matos.
"Amnesty International believes these sentences are politically motivated, relating to the two men's peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and that it is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics, particularly other members of UNPACU," the group said in a news release. "Therefore the organization considers them prisoners of conscience."
The human rights organization offered a similar explanation for designating Alexeis, Vianco and Django -- two of whom are teenagers -- as prisoners of conscience:
In the afternoon of 27 November 2012, Alexeis was returning to his house where a government-sanctioned demonstration was underway at the time. The house was surrounded by government supporters as his mother, Miraida Martín Calderín, a member of the Ladies in White protest group, was meeting with other members of the same organization. Alexeis was refused entry to his own home and arrested by police and officials from the Department of State Security. On 2 December, Vianco and Django Vargas Martín - then only 16 years old - went with friends to protest outside the Micro 9 police station in the city of Santiago de Cuba against the detention of their brother. They were arrested and also charged by police with (“violence or intimidation” against a state official).
Amnesty reports prosecutors have yet to file formal charges against the brothers.
UNPACU, which is headed by former prisoners of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Felix Navarro and Guillermo Farinas, is one of the best-established opposition groups on the island -- and thus in the crosshairs of the Castro dictatorship.
In a news release, the group said the five prisoners of conscience are among some 30 UNPACU activists arrested in the past year who deserve similar recognition.
"Despite a lack of rights, UNPACU has established itself as a force present throughout the island, with thousands of activists with pacifist and humanist action," the group said in the release.
UNPACU joined with Amnesty in calling for the international community to demand the Castro regime release the new prisoners of conscience and all political prisoners.