updated 2/17/2004 10:16:08 AM ET 2004-02-17T15:16:08

The Cuban government’s imprisonment of 75 dissidents is an “unprecedented wave of repression” in the country, a United Nations official charges.

In a report produced for next month’s annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Christine Chanet noted that the dissidents were tried and convicted within weeks or days of their arrests last year and criticized the fact that the trials were closed to the public.

The 75 dissidents were sentenced in April to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years on charges of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba’s socialist system. American officials and the activists denied the accusations.

Cuba has refused to allow Chanet, a French judge, to visit the island, claiming the trip would infringe on its sovereignty. The government also did not respond to her request for a pardon for the dissidents.

Dissidents jailed in poor conditions
Chanet, who prepared her report based on meetings with activists, human-rights investigators and officials of other governments, said she has information that the dissidents are kept in very poor conditions, either in total isolation or in overcrowded cells with common criminals. They are often moved from one prison to another, making it difficult for their families to visit them.

Cuba after the revolutionChanet said she also is concerned about the April 11 execution of three Cubans who hijacked a ferry to try to reach the United States.

Cuba imposed a moratorium on use of the death penalty in 2000, but suspended it to carry out the three executions.

Chanet called for a reinstatement of the moratorium and for an end to the imprisonment of people who had harmed neither people nor property.

“There was an unprecedented wave of repression in March and April 2003 in Cuba, on the pretext that American interests were taking an active role among political opponents in Havana,” Chanet said.

U.S. embargo's impact
She noted that Cuba continues to suffer from the “disastrous and persistent” effects of the U.S. economic embargo that has been in place for more than 40 years.

“The extreme tension between Cuba and the United States creates a climate that is unfavorable to the development of freedom of expression and assembly,” she said.

“U.S. laws and the financial support given to ’the building of democracy in Cuba’ make political opponents on the island look like sympathizers with foreigners.”

Nevertheless, she said, it was up to the Cuban government ease the suffering of the Cuban people.

Cuba last week defended its human rights record, insisting most of the criticism comes from people who are trying to overthrow the government.

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