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Cuban Dissidents Claim More Harassment in Advance of May 20 Gathering

Prominent dissidents in Cuba say they are being harassed by the government in advance of a gathering of dissident and pro-democracy forces scheduled to take place May 20 in Havana.

Earlier this month, dissidents involved in planning the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba sent word that the government had embarked on an all-out effort to intimidate activists from attending the event.

On Wednesday, three of Cuba's best-known dissident voices repeated those accusations in a telephone call to U.S. lawmakers.

Martha Beatriz Roque was released last year from serving a 20-year jail sentence because of poor health.

The Castro government, she says in translated remarks, has been doing everything it can to intimidate prospective attendees and discredit key organizers.

"For us it is critical to receive international support because the Castro regime has focused its repressive apparatus on the leaders of the assembly at this point, so international support is critical," she said.

The dissidents say measures include government attempts to portray them as agents of the U.S. government, as well as physical harassment and detentions.

They say that after a meeting on Tuesday to observe International Human Rights Day, one dissident was detained, another beaten, and others questioned by authorities.

In the weeks before the May 20 assembly, which is supposed to last two days, the dissidents say they will step up their appeals for international support, particularly from the United States and European countries.

Rene Gomez, another dissident leader in Havana, says they are fully prepared for additional government efforts to discourage attendance.

"We are not worried about the tactics utilized by the Castro's counter-intelligence, we are prepared for those tactics and prepared to see images of us displayed to the Cuban population that could include anything from having us dressed as Cuban military officials to dancing with polar bears, but we are prepared for those tactics," she said.

President Fidel Castro has stepped up pressure on dissidents, and criticized European nations for supporting a move to extend the mandate of a United Nations investigator into human rights problems in Cuba.

Dissident leaders also appealed for support from Europe ahead of the May 20 assembly in Havana.

A U.S.-backed resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission drawing attention to Cuba's human rights record was supported by European countries, bringing a sharp response from Cuba's government.