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Cuba Set to Release Political Prisoner, Move Others

Cuba's Roman Catholic Church says the government will free an ill political prisoner Saturday and move six other dissidents to prisons closer to their home provinces.

The office of Havana's Cardinal Jaime Ortega says Ariel Sigler, who is currently in a hospital, had received a prison sentence of at least 20 years.

Sigler and the other six prisoners are part of a group of more than 70 activists arrested in a 2003 government crackdown.   

The announcement of Sigler's release and the prisoner transfers comes days before a visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti.

Cuba has come under international scrutiny in recent months for its treatment of dissidents and the detention of political prisoners.  The transfers will bring to 12 the number of prisoners moved since May to prisons closer to their families.  

Human-rights groups estimate that Cuba holds at least 200 people in prison on political charges.  Cuban authorities say they have no political prisoners, only "mercenaries" allegedly working for the United States to undermine Cuban communism.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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