Cuban police detained four top pro-democracy activists and at least 40 other dissidents Wednesday in a crackdown in which an independent journalist alleges he was severely beaten by a State Security agent.
Most of the dissidents were freed later in the day, but the large number of detentions fueled complaints that the government of Raúl Castro government has been turning to tougher and, at times, violent means of repressing dissent.
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez characterized the events as “short-term, arbitrary detentions for political motives” and said the number of detainees could top 44 because several activists haven’t been accounted for.
Sanchez’ Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported a record 3,821 such arrests in the first four months of this year. That compares to the previous high of 2,795 during the first four months of 2012. The detentions are usually designed to intimidate dissidents and keep them away from opposition gatherings,.
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Two well-known dissidents, Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, and his wife, Yris Pérez Aguilera, were hauled away by police during an early morning raid of their home in the town of Placetas, the Cuban Democratic Directorate said.
The wife sent a text message from her cell phone saying that the couple had been taken to police headquarters in the nearby city of Santa Clara, the Miami-based Directorate reported. It was not known whether they had been freed as of Wednesday night.
There was no immediate explanation for the couple’s detention, although they are considered to be among the most hard-line dissidents on the island and are leaders of the National Civic Resistance Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
Police have raided their home at least four times since February, seizing phones, computers and documents they brought back from a lengthy trip abroad last year. It took them to several cities in the United States, Europe and Latin America.
Magaly Norvis Otero, a member of the dissident Ladies in White, said she and at least 30 other women and 15 men were detained when they tried to attend the Havana trial of the husband of group member Yalenis Cutiño. She accused him of domestic abuse.
“As the women and the others arrived at the trial, police arrested us and took us to jail. I know of at least 30 women and 15 men but there might be more,” Norvis told El Nuevo Herald by phone.
Among those detained were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, and her husband, Angel Moya, a dissident who served about eight years in prison.
Norvis said many of the dissidents detained were freed after about four hours, but she had no immediate word on Soler or Moya.
El Nuevo Herald calls to the cell phones of the four top dissidents were not answered. A call to Sanchez was interrupted by a recording of the first few seconds of the conversation with the human rights activist.
Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra, meanwhile, said that a State Security agent in plainclothes attacked him as he walked toward the Czech embassy in Havana to file one of his reports on its Internet connection.
“Without saying a word,” the man punched him repeatedly on the face and gave him a bloody nose, Guerra said. Two other men in the type of motorcycles used by State Security did nothing for awhile, he said, and then told the attacker, “OK. Don’t hit him any more.”
“I am going to the doctor now and later to the police to file a complaint, although they never do anything because they are the ones beating us,” he told El Nuevo Herald.
Norvis, who is married to Guerra, said the beating was the latest in a series of government harrasments of Guerra and the independent news agency he heads, Hablemos Press.
Three Hablemos Press reporters have been detained in recent weeks, she said. The couple also has received anonymous death threats as well as obviously faked photos of Guerra with a woman, she said.
“These have been days of a lot of tension, with the government using very dirty methods,” Norvis said.