Cuban security officials detained nearly 30 members of the dissident Ladies in White while a government-backed mob twice pummeled and kicked a top opposition leader in yet another weekend crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
Guillermo Fariñas, one of the country’s best known dissidents, said he suffered half a dozen bruises in the attacks Sunday as he twice approached a police station in his hometown of Santa Clara to file a complaint against the arrests of 11 Ladies in White.
A government-organized mob of 120-130 people blocked the street and about 40 punched and kicked him, Fariñas said. He went home to change his bloody clothes after the first pummeling but returned and was attacked again in front of the station.
Police officers drove him to a local hospital where he was treated for a cut on his head and afterward promised him that he would be able to return to the police station and file his complaint, Fariñas told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Santa Clara.
On the third attempt he filed the complaint, that 11 Ladies in White had been illegally detained in Santa Clara as they walked alone or in pairs to Sunday mass at the Divina Pastora church, since Cuban law only bans unauthorized groups of three or more, he said.
Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, said he recognized some of the people who beat him up as sports trainers and nurses waiting for profitable but government-controlled job assignments abroad.
“These people are being blackmailed to hand out punches,” said Fariñas, who serves as spokesman for the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the most active pro-democracy groups on the island.
The 11 Ladies in White detained in Santa Clara on Sunday were among the 47 rounded up in central Cuba over the weekend as police again broke up the women’s efforts to establish their right to stage public protests after mass.
About 85 women dressed in white and carrying gladiolas marched in Havana without incident Sunday after mass at the Santa Rita church — a street protest tolerated by the government after complaints of indecent harassments by government mobs in 2010.
But police have cracked down on Ladies in White members who tried to extend those protests outside Havana — first in eastern Santiago de Cuba province and more recently in central Matanzas and Villa Clara provinces.
Sixteen women were detained Sunday before and after mass in the Matanzas cities of Cardenas and Colon, according to reports from dissidents in the area. One, Leticia Ramos, was taken to a hospital complaining of a back injury suffered during her arrest.
Three other Ladies in White and 20 activists in other dissident organizations were also detained Sunday in separate round ups around the province of Havana, according to a report by dissident Marta Beatriz Roque.
Most of the dissidents detained had been freed as of Sunday night. Such short-term arrests, reported to be increasing over the past two months, are designed to harass and intimidate dissidents and block them from attending gatherings.
Fariñas said the women will try to attend Sunday masses again next weekend, to pray for the release of all political prisoners on the island and reconciliation among all Cubans, on the island and abroad.