Cuba must immediately open an independent and impartial investigation into the death of a dissident that followed a public police beating, Amnesty International said today.
Former political prisoner Juan Wilfredo Soto died in hospital on Sunday in the Cuban city of Santa Clara, three days after he reported being beaten following his arrest by police officers in a park.
“The Cuban authorities need to immediately establish an independent inquiry into the causes of Juan Wilfredo Soto’s death. If he ultimately died as a result of a police beating in Park Vidal, those responsible must face justice,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
The Cuban government has strongly denied its security forces played any role in Soto’s death. Hospital sources have reportedly stated he died from “acute pancreatitis”, a condition which can be triggered by abdominal trauma among other things.
Soto belonged to Foro Antitotalitario Unido, an organization led by prominent dissident Guillermo Fariñas, serving as the Secretary for Political Prisoners in Santa Clara. He had previously been imprisoned for 12 years for his dissenting activities.
According to Fariñas, on 5 May at around 9am, two national police officers approached Soto in Park Vidal, asked him for his ID and then asked him to leave the park. He refused to comply and protested verbally against the expulsion. He was allegedly cuffed with his hands behind his back, then beaten with batons because he continued to protest his arrest.
Soto was detained at a police station, then hospitalised that day. He was released from hospital the same afternoon only to return a day later to the intensive care unit, complaining of severe back pain. He died at the hospital on the night of Saturday to Sunday.
A local source told Amnesty International that he bumped into Soto as he was going to the hospital on 5 May. According to the source, upon meeting him, Soto said “I just got a beating in the park with batons and I’ve got a very sore back. These people killed me.” Soto’s pre-existing medical conditions included gout, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
“There are too many unanswered questions. There needs to be a thorough investigation of what happened to Juan Wilfredo Soto in the park, at the police station, and at the hospital,” said Javier Zuñiga.
“We are particularly concerned by this case because it takes place against a backdrop of ongoing harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of dissidents over the past few months, and increasing reports of beatings of dissidents by police.”
The Cuban authorities are continuing to stifle freedom of expression on the island in spite of a much-publicised recent wave of releases of prominent dissidents.
Soto engaged in street trading in and around the park Vidal, because his political activism had resulted in him losing his job as a construction worker according to Guillermo Fariñas. It is unclear whether the police officers initially asked him to leave the park because of his activism or his trading activities.