UN human rights chief urges Cuba to halt harassment of activists

(Photo: REUTERS / Desmond Boylan)Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, speaks to reporters in Havana, September 16, 2013. Cuba's Roman Catholic church leadership in a letter to parishioners called on the communist-run country's leaders to "update" the political system to allow more freedom similar to liberalization undertaken in the economy. The latest statement was delivered to the government before being read out in Cuban churches, Monsignor Jose Felix Perez told the media.

GENEVA - The U.N. human rights chief has expressed concern at the extremely high number of arbitrary arrests and short-term detention of individuals, including human rights defenders and dissidents in Cuba in recent weeks.

In his Dec. 15 statement U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein singled out the arrest of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco).

Founded by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in 2003, the Ladies in White (Spanish: Damas de Blanco) is an opposition movement.

The women protest the imprisonments by attending Sunday Mass wearing white dresses and then silently walking through the streets dressed in white, to symbolize peace.

"There have been many hundreds of arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions - which in my view amount to harassment - in the past six weeks alone," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

Cuban police detained at least six protesters shouting "Freedom!" and "Long live human rights!" in Havana on Dec. 10, Reuters news agency reported.

Dissidents reported the detention of 100 people throughout the nation on U.N. Human Rights Day, when some Cubans call unauthorized demonstrations.

Referring to the arrests Zeid said, "These often take place without a warrant and ahead of specific meetings or demonstrations, and seem to be aimed at preventing people from exercising their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly."

"I was particularly shocked that a number of people, including members of the Ladies in White NGO, were arrested on Human Rights Day, on 10 December. This shows an extraordinary disdain for the importance of human rights on the part of the Cuban authorities."                                      

(Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia)Ladies in White demonstration in Havana, April 2012.

The U.N. rights chief urged the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression of all, and to peaceful assembly and association.

He called for a halt to arbitrary arrests people, in particular before, during or after peaceful demonstrations.

"I call for the release of all those arbitrarily arrested who may still be in detention as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of their rights," he said.

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