Cuba’s leading human rights activist Oswaldo Payá is accusing the Castro government of mistreating political prisoners. In a press release issued in the Cuban capital, Payá charged that officials at the Holguin Provincial Prison threw two activists into “punishment cells” last month, sparking protests by other prisoners.
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, serving a 25-year sentence for state security violations and “collaborating with the United States to overthrow the Castro regime,” was transferred to the isolated cell on Oct. 17 allegedly in reprisal for demanding medical attention.
According to Payá, prison authorities the following day meted out the same punishment to Angel Moya Acosta, a long-term activist currently serving a 20-year term.
Five other prisoners at the same facility are staging a partial hunger strike to protest the “cruelty against their two associates,” Payá said. The protesters are refusing prison meals and instead are living on “scarce provisions” from their families.
Government and Holguin prison officials refused to comment on the allegations.
In recent weeks Payá, head of the outlawed Christian Liberation Movement that launched a nation-wide petition drive to reform the Cuban system, has taken up the cause of political prisoners.
He appears to be filling a void caused after their previous champion, Elizardo Sánchez, was tainted by government claims of collaborating with Cuban state security. Sánchez, who called the allegations “colossal lies,” has not been particularly visible recently.
Better known abroad than in his own country where the government controls all news outlets, Payá is calling on the international community to “condemn the Cuban government’s cruelty to political prisoners.”
Reacting to Tuesday’s U.N. vote that overwhelmingly denounced the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Payá urged the General Assembly to also “demand that the Cuban government cease its cruel and degrading treatment of political prisoners and their release.”
Last March, Cuban courts sentenced 75 dissidents to terms ranging from six to 28 years for aiding the enemy, in this case the U.S. government, in plotting a regime change. This past June, Amnesty International classified all as “Prisoners of Conscience.”
NBC’s Mary Murray is based in Havana. Portia Siegelbaum contributed to this report.