Cuban dissident says she would rather go back to prison than continue to be harassed

Former Cuban political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque has asked a court to return her to prison, saying she cannot continue living under the constant harassment from police, state security officials, and pro-government neighbors.

“I am worse here than in prison. Let them send me to prison, because that’s preferable to living in this prison,” the 68-year-old Roque, her voice breaking with emotion, said from her apartment in Havana.

The dissident economist said she and fellow activist Armando Ramos Lazurique went to a Havana court Monday to submit her three-page letter complaining of the constant torment and asking to be returned to prison.

Roque was the only woman among 75 dissidents given lengthy prison terms during a harsh crackdown in the spring of 2003. A state security court sentenced her to 20 years, but she was freed in 2004 after suffering a heart attack.

Cuban human-rights activists Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz said Tuesday that he was “alarmed by Martha’s situation” and the “sharp and abusive harassment” that she has suffered “on orders of the political police.”

The campaign of physical, verbal, and psychological harassment started in 2012 after she swapped her home in the Santos Suarez neighborhood for a son-in-law’s apartment closer to the center of Havana, Roque told el Nuevo Herald on Monday.

Eight or nine neighbors have prevented her from going out and visitors from entering, Roque said, as police ring the building and state security agents use a lobby TV to constantly show a government program that branded her a traitor to the Cuban revolution.

The video and a four-year-old story in the official Granma newspaper posted in the lobby, alleging that she was a U.S.-paid “mercenary,” prove the government is behind the harassment because “no one else saves that garbage,” she said.

Authorities turned up the harassment in November of last year, Roque said, after she went to a police station to complain that government crews spraying for mosquitoes had treated her house even though she had protested that she suffers from asthma.

Police forced her back to her apartment amid kicks, punches, and shoves that left her bed-ridden, she said. Neighbors have punched her, blocked her door, broken her camera, and chanted pro-government slogans and epithets outside her apartment door.

The harassment usually steps up on Wednesdays, when she is scheduled to host a working meeting of the Cuban Network of Community Communicators, a group of independent journalists whom she leads, Roque said.

Police detained her again Monday after she and Ramos went to the state security court to deliver her letter, Roque told el Nuevo Herald by telephone from Havana.

“The letter says it is impossible to live like I am living in my own home,” she said. “I am diabetic and asthmatic … and I am here, alone, alone.”

Roque said police took her to a state security official who called himself “Colonel Mario” and told her that “he had the answer to the letter: they will allow the neighbors to continue to harass and hit me, and they will not allow anyone to enter my house.”

The dissident said her letter to the same court that convicted her in 2003 also complained about her legal status — free from prison but only under an “out-of-prison license” that was never explained or defined on an official piece of paper.

Thirteen of the 75 dissidents sentenced to prison terms of 15 years and more in the 2003 crackdown, known as Cuba’s Black Spring, were freed early and remain living in Cuba under the “out-of-prison licenses.”

Some were released early for health reasons, like Roque and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who died last year. The rest of the 75 were freed in 2010 and 2011 after talks between Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and Catholic Church leaders. Most of them went directly from prison to the Havana airport and flights to exile in Spain.

The 13 who remain in Cuba live in a legal limbo, Roque said, and technically can be sent back to prison by authorities at any time to serve the remainder of their sentences, which range up to 28 years.

At least two of the 13 have been denied permission to travel abroad in the past year because they have not served their full sentences. They are Jose Daniel Ferrer, who founded the opposition Cuban Patriotic Union after he was freed in 2012, and Angel Moya, the husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler.

Ferrer was serving a 25-year sentence and Moya was serving a 20-year sentence when they were freed in 2012. All of the 75 were accused of crimes against the security of the state by allegedly accepting financial and other support from the U.S. government.

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