CUBA has released dissidents from the Ladies in White activist group, after detaining more than 50 of them over the weekend ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict the XVI, a member of the group told AFP today.
Magaly Norvis Otero Suarez, a member of the outlawed human rights group, said that its leader Berta Soler, and “almost” all of the other detained activists jailed on Sunday had been set free overnight.
Soler “already has been freed, and almost all of the others too,” said Otero, who said they had been returned to their homes in various parts of the island.
“We don’t have confirmation yet that those from the east of the island are at home yet,” she said, adding that they had been sent home from Havana by bus.
There was no mention in Cuba’s official media about the dissidents being arrested or released, although authoritative blogger Yohandry who has extensive government sources wrote in an online post today: “The Ladies in White are in their homes. There are no Ladies in White being held at the moment in Cuba.”
Police on Sunday rounded up activists with the group in operations carried out across Havana.
In one operation, police broke up a protest march by wives and mothers of political prisoners and arrested about 20 dissidents after they strayed off their usual march route, an AFP reporter witnessed.
That came just hours after an activist with the Ladies in White said another 33 women, including Soler, were detained as they were leaving the group’s headquarters to attend Sunday mass at a Roman Catholic church.
The Ladies in White, which won the European Union’s 2005 Sakharov Prize to honour those committed to the struggle for human rights, has long pressed for the release of political prisoners —including their loved ones.
The dissident group has stepped up its activities ahead of the March 26-28 visit by the pontiff, who is not expected to meet with dissident leader during his visit.
The Catholic church has been deeply involved in mediating the release of Cuba’s political prisoners, but some opposition members have been critical of it for cooperating with the regime.