Cuban human rights activist in maximum security prison must be released

Amnesty International today adopted its 55th prisoner of conscience in Cuba and urged President Raúl Castro for his immediate and unconditional release.Darsi Ferrer, Director of the ‘Juan Bruno Zayas’ Health and Human Rights Centre in Havana, has been detained for over six months since July 2009 on spurious charges of receiving illegally obtained goods, an offence normally bailed immediately. He has not been brought to trial and is being held in a maximum security prison in Havana intended for inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes. Although the offence with which Darsi is charged would normally be reviewed by a local magistrate, Darsi’s case is being handled by the General Prosecutor’s Office, fuelling the argument that his case is politically motivated.“The accusation against Darsi Ferrer is clearly a pretext. We believe he was detained as a punishment for his work to promote freedom of expression in Cuba,” said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty International. “Darsi has been detained many times before in connection with his protest activities. Anyone charged with this crime would normally be awaiting trial on bail, not held in a maximum security prison. This is yet another attempt by the Cuban authorities to hinder the work of human rights activists in Cuba,” said Gerardo Ducos.Amnesty International adopted Darsi Ferrer days after the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on Monday. Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested in March 2003 and was serving a total sentence of 36 years. He was reported to have been on hunger strike for several weeks in protest at prison conditions.“It is really important that Amnesty International has declared Darsi a prisoner of conscience because the authorities have insisted he is a criminal prisoner – and that is not the case.” Darsi’s wife, Yusnaimy, told Amnesty International. “His imprisonment has been very difficult for me. It is really hard to see our son suffer, he was really close to his dad and he relies on him.” Darsi Ferrer and Yusnaimy were arrested without a valid warrant in Havana on 9 July 2009, hours before they were due to participate in a demonstration to promote freedom of expression. They were interrogated for several hours and Darsi Ferrer was handcuffed and beaten by eight police officers. They were released without charge several hours later.  On 21 July 2009, Darsi Ferrer was arrested again and told he was being taken to a police station to answer questions about building materials the police had confiscated during their previous detention. However, he was falsely detained and driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana and was charged with receiving illegally obtained goods.Darsi Ferrer claims the building materials, two sacks of cement and some iron girders, were given to him by a colleague who had left the country and had not finished refurbishing his own house. The materials had been on the porch of the house in full view from the street months before the authorities came to confiscate them. “My husband is in prison because he is a person who fights for his ideals and convictions, not because of two bags of cement,” said Yusnaimy.“We are living in the dark, we don’t know how long he will stay in prison and this uncertainty is torturing us. As he has not been tried, we cannot be sure if he will stay in prison one more day or 20 more years.”