Cuba's Black Spring
Following the release of prisoner of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet from prison, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) demands amnesty for him and for all the prisoners of conscience of Cuba’s Black Spring who have rejected exile to Spain and have instead been released on parole in Cuba.
“I know I’m leaving a small prison for the big prison that is Cuba. Yet I’m very happy and very thankful to God, because after so many years, I go back to my wife here at home,” said Biscet during a telephone call with HRF on March 13.
Last Friday, after eight years of imprisonment, Biscet was released under an “extra penitentiary license”—a form of parole established in Cuba’s Criminal Code. According to this provision, Biscet will continue to serve his 25-year sentence outside of prison, as long as he shows “good conduct.”
“I am a defender of life and liberty, and on those two values I base all that I do,” Biscet told HRF. “I refused to leave Cuba because I’ve pledged never to abandon it until I achieve my objectives—democracy and freedom for Cuba.”
Between February 1998 and November 1999, Biscet was detained 27 times by state agents in Cuba. In 2003, during what would be remembered as Cuba’s Black Spring, Biscet was detained, summarily tried, and sentenced to 25 years in prison for engaging in “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state.”
“Prisoners of conscience are not criminals. They are courageous men and women who have been imprisoned for peacefully defying a despotic government,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “A common criminal may be granted parole to serve the remainder of his sentence out of a prison cell. But a prisoner of conscience’s only crime is refusing to bow before a tyrant. They all deserve amnesty,” Halvorssen stated.
On February 13, 2011, prisoners of conscience Héctor Maseda and Ángel Moya, who also rejected forced exile to Spain, were released on parole in Cuba. They are, respectively, the husbands of Laura Pollán and Berta Soler—both of whom are leaders of the Ladies in White.
“I will continue doing what I’ve done until now—I’m a dissident, I’m an independent journalist, I oppose this government and I will not stop opposing it,” said Maseda on the day of his release. “The fight will continue. If we have to go to prison, we will return there because we’re fighting for a just cause. We are not criminals, or drug dealers—we’re peaceful fighters striving for freedom,” Moya stated that day.
According to Cuba’s Criminal Code, if the Cuban government were to grant amnesty to all prisoners of conscience, as HRF demands, they would become legally free, as this measure would “extinguish” their “criminal responsibility,” as well as “the sentence and all its effects.”
“The stance taken by Maseda, Moya, and Biscet, raises a profound feeling of admiration in all of us. Yet, it doesn’t surprise us,” said Halvorssen. “A conditional release is better than jail for almost everyone, except for prisoners of conscience. For these heroes, a totalitarian society is already a prison, and jail is a price they are willing to pay in order to gain their freedom.”
In 2003, Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate and prisoner of conscience Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It is ironic, I say, that in an authoritarian state it is only the prisoner of conscience who is genuinely free. Yes, we have given up our right to a normal life. But we have stayed true to that most precious part of our humanity—our conscience.”
As he closed his call with HRF, Biscet said, “We ask the international community, and all persons living in free and democratic countries, to help us pressure the Cuban government so that Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, and Félix Navarro can also be released.”
Ferrer, Linares, and Navarro are the three Black Spring prisoners of conscience that remain incarcerated in Cuba. As of today, eight have been released on parole after rejecting exile. They are Pedro Argüelles, Diosdado González, Iván Hernández, Guido Sigler, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Héctor Maseda, Ángel Moya, and Oscar Elías Biscet.
In September 2010, HRF released an exclusive video of the Ladies in White that relates the story of how the group formed following the Black Spring government crackdown, and discusses events that have brought international attention to Cuba’s prisoners of conscience.
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.