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Cuban Mothers Plead For Imprisoned Sons' Release

Mothers of Cuban political prisoners are appealing to the United Nations Human Rights Commission to help them obtain the release of their children. The women are mothers of men who are among 79 dissidents arrested and given long prison sentences by Cuban authorities two years ago.

Blanca Gonzalez says she has come to plead with the U.N. Human Rights Commission to help her son and all the other sons who have been unjustly locked away in prison.

She says her 35-year-old son, an independent journalist, is serving a 25-year sentence for having written articles critical of Fidel Castro's regime. Since his incarceration two years ago, she says her son, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, has been subjected to lengthy interrogations, beaten up and placed in solitary confinement.

She says he was transferred to a high security holding area with ordinary prisoners suffering from tuberculosis. Ms. Gonzalez says her son was a healthy man when he entered prison. Now, he lies in a prison hospital being treated for tuberculosis.

"As a mother I ask for help so that my son is freed from prison. He has been committed unjustly to 25 years in prison," Ms. Gonzalez says. "He has not committed any crime. He simply was a journalist, never violent, never did any harm to the Castro government. He simply told the truth."

Ms. Gonzalez says her son has, on numerous occasions, been denied medical treatment, family visits and the right to practice his religion.

The 79 dissidents were arrested in March and April 2003. This spring crackdown occurred around the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Cuban dissidents say the timing was deliberately chosen because attention would be diverted from the arrests.

A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission by a special U.N. investigator says these people were arrested while working as journalists, writers, members of political parties, opposition trade unions and human rights defenders. All of them have drawn long prison sentences ranging from six to 28 years.

The Cuban government has since released 18 prisoners on humanitarian grounds but continues to detain 61 others. Amnesty International considers the dissidents as prisoners of conscience and calls for their release.

While in Geneva, the Cuban mothers are meeting with special U.N. investigators dealing with Violence Against Women, Human Rights Defenders and Arbitrary Detention.

In her presentation to the commission, Blanca Gonzalez, noted that her son was one of some 300 political prisoners serving long and unjust sentences. She asked for their human rights to be respected and called for an end to political repression.