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US Deplores Cuba Sentencing Three More Dissidents - 2004-05-19

The United States is deploring the sentencing by the Cuban government Tuesday of three more dissidents on criminal charges. The State Department Wednesday also ridiculed a Cuban suggestion that the United States is trying to destabilize the island and provoke a refugee crisis.

The three Cubans were each given three-year prison sentences on charges of contempt of authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest stemming from a police raid on a meeting of dissidents in December 2002.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli deplored the conviction and sentencing of the three, whose only "crime" he said was to gather at a Havana home to study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr. Ereli said Tuesday's verdict came on the heels of the sentencing of ten other dissidents to prison earlier this month on what he described as "trumped-up charges," and said it reflected the inability of Cuba's communist government to tolerate any domestic criticism.

?These actions are yet another indication of the efforts by the Castro regime to clamp down on anybody who dares exercise their fundamental human rights or criticize in anyway those who are in power,? he said. ?They are indicative of how Castro has isolated himself and gained the opprobrium of the international community."

Mr. Ereli rejected as "ridiculous" an allegation by Cuban authorities that the three persons sentenced Tuesday - Orlando Zapata, Raul Arencibia and Virgilio Marante - had been paid agents of the United States.

He also dismissed a charge Tuesday by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque that the Bush administration was trying to de-stabilize Cuba and provoke a new exodus of Cuban refugees through the tighter economic sanctions on Cuba it announced May 6.

The steps include new limits on money transfers and visits by Cuban-Americans to their families in Cuba, and the use of military aircraft to transmit broadcasts into Cuba by U.S. funded Radio and TV Marti, which have been heavily jammed by Cuban authorities.

The Bush administration said the steps are aimed at promoting a democratic transition in Cuba. Mr. Ereli said the claim by Mr. Roque that the United States seeks to instigate a refugee crisis is a "fantastical notion" and "conspiracy thinking" in the extreme.