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Release of Cuban prisoner of conscience is long overdue

The release of a Cuban prisoner of conscience who spent almost a year in pre-trial detention at a maximum security prison after organizing protests critical of the government is long overdue, Amnesty International has said.Darsi Ferrer was convicted on Tuesday on spurious charges of receiving illegally obtained goods and "violence or intimidation against a state official".  He was sentenced to one year in jail and three months' "correctional work" outside the prison. As he had already been imprisoned for almost a year, he was immediately released."We are very pleased that Darsi Ferrer was released the same day of his trial and is back with his family, but he was detained on trumped up criminal charges and in truth he should never have been detained in the first place" said Kerrie Howard, Amnesty International's Americas deputy director.“Though he has been released, Darsi Ferrer’s sentence still constitutes punishment for criticising the government system and is a powerful message to any Cuban participating in dissenting activities and wishing to express opinions contrary to the government system”.40-year-old Darsi Ferrer, Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre in Havana, was detained on 21 July 2009. He was held at a maximum security prison in the capital intended for inmates convicted of violent crimes. Ordinarily, the crimes of which he was accused would be bailed awaiting trial. However, Darsi Ferrer was refused bail four times.In July 2009, Darsi Ferrer attempted to organize a march demonstrating against repression in Cuba. A few hours before the march started, Darsi Ferrer and his wife Yusnaimy Jorge Soca were detained by state security officials and police officers. 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. Instead, he was detained and driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana.Darsi Ferrer has previously been detained and prevented from leading and participating in human rights events. Many Cuban dissidents face arbitrary detention and harassment by the authorities in order to prevent them participating in public events and activities critical of the government.