Anniversary of Prisoner’s Death Highlights Continued Abuses in Cuba
February 23, 2011
It is with great sadness that Freedom House marks the one-year anniversary of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death. On February 23, 2010, the 42-year-old political prisoner died after more than 80 days on a hunger strike, which he began in protest of prison conditions in Cuba. Freedom House recognizes the enormous impact that Mr. Zapata Tamayo had on exposing abuses suffered by Cuban prisoners.
In 2003, Mr. Zapata Tamayo was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. Although not part of the group of 75 dissidents rounded up during Cuba’s “Black Spring” in March of that year, Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” soon after his detention. His courageous dedication to denouncing prison abuses resulted in several additional prison sentences, totaling 36 years, along with alleged beatings and torture by prison guards.
“Mr. Zapata Tamayo’s death is a glaring example of the Cuban government’s continued blatant disregard for human rights,” said Paula Schriefer, advocacy director at Freedom House. “Freedom House strongly urges the Cuban government to respect Cuban citizens’ right to peaceably congregate in celebration of Zapata Tamayo’s life and to mourn his death. Today serves as a solemn reminder that the struggle for basic rights in Cuba must continue; not just for Cubans, but for people everywhere.”
Freedom House condemns the increasing harassment that Zapata Tamayo’s family and other well-known dissidents have reported suffering leading up to the anniversary of his death. Reina Luisa Tamayo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother, has been prevented from organizing activities in her son’s memory. According to most recent reports, Reina and her husband, Jesus Ortiz, were detained and beaten over a 12-hour period on Friday February 18.
Freedom House consistently ranks Cuba among the world’s worst regimes. Cuba is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010. The island nation also received the lowest ranking in Freedom on the Net, a Freedom House study of internet freedom in 15 countries released in 2009.
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