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US Repeats Call for Release of All Cuban Political Prisoners

The United States says Cuban dissidents released from Cuban prison Monday should never have been jailed in the first place. News reports from Havana say several political prisoners held since a major crackdown on dissent last year were freed on health grounds.

The State Department pointedly passed up the opportunity to praise the Fidel Castro government for releasing the dissidents.

At a news briefing State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States joins the families and friends of the prisoners in welcoming the end of what he termed the "unjust detention" that the Castro government had subjected them to.

Those released Monday were among 75 leading opponents of the communist government who were arrested in March of 2003 and sentenced to prison terms ranging up to 28 years for treason or, among other things, having contact with the U.S. diplomatic "Interests Section" in Havana.

Asked about the release, spokesman Boucher said they never should have been imprisoned in the first place.

He said credit, if any is due, should go to those in the international community who have put pressure on Cuba to end the incarceration of what he termed "brave people who were jailed solely for exercising their human rights".

"We really don't give any credit to the Cuban government for releasing them, since they never should have been jailed to begin with," Mr. Boucher said. "And we hope that they can return to their work to build a truly just and open Cuban society. We continue to condemn the unjust incarceration of dozens of other prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and we repeat our call to the Cuban government to release all political prisoners immediately.

Wire service reports from Havana, quoting family members of prisoners and human rights activists, differ on the number of dissidents released Monday.