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Cuban Prisoner Dies After Hunger Strike

Ramona Rivero, of the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White, places flowers in a vase near a condolence book for the late dissident Wilman Villar in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Jan. 20, 2012.

Cuban human rights activists say jailed dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza has died following a seven-week-long hunger strike.

The activists say the 31-year-old Villar, who had been suffering from pneumonia, died Thursday in a Santiago hospital, where he had been transferred. Last November, Villar was arrested after taking part in a march. A few days later, he was tried and sentenced for crimes including disobedience and resisting arrest. The activists say he had stopped eating to protest his sentence.

U.S. President Barack Obama's press secretary says the chief executive's thoughts and prayers are with Villar's family. A White House statement says the senseless death highlights the ongoing repression of the Cuban people.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Friday that the responsibility for Villar's death in custody lies squarely with Cuban authorities, who Amnesty said "summarily judged and jailed him for exercising his right to freedom of expression." Amnesty also said Cuban authorities "must stop the harassment, persecution, and imprisonment of peaceful demonstrators as well as political and human rights activists."

The government in Havana has not commented on his death.

Two years ago, Cuba drew international condemnation when another imprisoned dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died following an 85-day hunger strike his supporters say was staged to protest prison conditions. Zapata's mother blamed Cuban officials for his death in February 2010.