June 13, 2014

Cuban dissident says he was beaten and choked

A crackdown on Wednesday drew a condemnation from the U.S. State Department.

Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, said Friday he was beaten, choked into unconsciousness and injected with an unknown substance by security agents who warned him to stop working against warmer U.S.-Cuba relations.

The U.S. State Department meanwhile condemned Cuba’s “systematic” use of violence and detentions against dissidents following a crackdown Wednesday that saw about 45 opposition activists briefly arrested and an independent journalist beaten up.

“We strongly condemn the Cuban government’s systematic use of physical violence and arbitrary detention to silence its critics (and) disrupt peaceful assembly,” said deputy department spokesperson Marie Harf.

“We urge the Government of Cuba to end these practices and respect the universal human rights of Cuban citizens,” Harf added in a statement late Thursday in which she recounted parts of the crackdown the previous day.

García, arrested Wednesday with his wife, Yris Pérez Aguilera and freed Friday, said he had never been so badly abused during his many previous detentions. “I never thought that in this day and age they could do things like this,” he said.

Four muscular men punched him and threw him around an office in a police station in Santa Clara, the provincial capital near his home in the town of Placetas 180 miles east of Havana, he told the Nuevo Herald by phone.

One security official in a white lab coat put him in a strangle hold and knocked him out twice, he said. When he recovered consciousness, the man had just injected something into his arm. There was no independent way to confirm his allegations.

State Security officials told him they had detained him to warn him to stop collecting signatures for a document opposing improved U.S.-Cuba relations, the dissident said. More than 830 Cubans have signed the document.

García said the authorities also told him they knew that he was behind a string of anti-Castro graffiti that has appeared around Placetas, and that he had been in contact with Miami exiles such as Dr. Manuel Alzugaray.

Cuba’s Interior Ministry has linked Alzugaray, director of the Miami Medical Team, and others to four Miami Cubans arrested on the island for allegedly plotting to attack military targets. Alzugaray has denied any involvement in the alleged plot.

García said his wife also was slapped and pushed around during her detention and was given the same message that he received from his captors: “Shut up or get out of the country.” His long-time slogan has been, “I will neither shut up nor leave.”

García, 49, who was jailed from 1990 to 2007, and his wife are among the most outspoken dissidents in communist-ruled Cuba. They head the National Civic Resistance Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo, named for a dissident who died in 2010 after a hunger strike. They have been detained dozens of times, although usually for only a few hours.

Havana dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, 69, meanwhile alleged that she was punched by a female State Security agent in civilian clothes who blocked her from leaving her home Wednesday. She fell with the punch and injured her back, she added.

Security agents have blocked everyone from entering or leaving Roque’s home on Wednesdays since November, to block the weekly meetings of a small group of independent journalists she leads, the Cuban Network of Community Communicators.

The female State Security agent refused to identify herself and told a male supervisor after the incident that Roque had slipped on her own, she said. Cuban security agents seldom identify themselves, and then mostly with nicknames.

The crackdown Wednesday also saw independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra allege that a State Security agent in plainclothes attacked him without provocation as he walked down a Havana street. Guerra suffered a broken nose in the incident.

Police and State Security agents also detained more than 30 members of the dissident Ladies in White and up to 20 male supporters during the day, but had freed all of them by the end of Wednesday.

Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez has been reporting a steady increase in “short-term, arbitrary detentions for political motives” under Cuban ruler Raúl Castro. Such detentions are usually designed to intimidate dissidents and keep them away from opposition gatherings.

His Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation tallied a record 3,821 such arrests in the first four months of this year, compared to the previous high of 2,795 during the first four months of 2012.

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