Cuban President Raúl Castro must release a prisoner of conscience set to face trial on Tuesday on spurious charges after he organised a protest against the authorities, Amnesty International has said.
Darsi Ferrer, an independent journalist and Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre in Havana, has been detained since his arrest in July 2009, just hours before a protest he had organised against repression in Cuba.
He was later charged with receiving illegally obtained goods and "violence or intimidation against a state official", charges that appear completely baseless.
“The Cuban authorities must drop these trumped up charges against Darsi Ferrer and release him immediately“, said Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy director at Amnesty International.
“He has been detained solely for his work promoting freedom of expression in Cuba”.
Darsi Ferrer has been held at a maximum security prison in the capital intended for inmates convicted of violent crimes. Ordinarily, an individual accused of these crimes would be bailed awaiting trial. However, Darsi Ferrer has been refused bail four times.
In February 2010, Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.
On 9 July 2009, Darsi Ferrer and his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, were detained by state security officials and police officers just before the protest was about to begin.
Darsi Ferrer was handcuffed and beaten by more than eight police officers. He and Yusnaimy were released without charge a few hours later.
When they arrived home, they noticed that two bags of cement, some iron girders and two window frames, which had been on their property for a few months, were missing. According to neighbours, police officers had confiscated them.
On 21 July, four police officers took Darsi Ferrer in for questioning about the materials. Once at the police station he was detained and driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana.
The other charge of "violence or intimidation against a state official" apparently relates to comments Darsi Ferrer was overheard making - that an injustice was being committed and sooner or later things would change in Cuba.
Darsi Ferrer has previously been detained and prevented from leading and participating in human rights events.
Every year since 2006, he has been detained or summoned to a police station on or around 10 December (International Human Rights Day), apparently to prevent him from participating in activities celebrating the day.
The right to a fair trial is limited in Cuba, with courts and prosecutors under government control.
Cuba’s National Assembly elects the President, Vice-President and the other judges of the Peoples’ Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General.
In addition, all courts are subordinate to the National Assembly and the Council of State, raising concerns over internationally recognised standards for fair trial and the right to trial by an independent and impartial tribunal.
The right to a fair and proper defence is also unlikely to be fully respected, as lawyers are employed by the Cuban government and as such may be reluctant to challenge prosecutors or evidence presented by the state intelligence services.