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Rene Gomez Manzano, who helped organize an unprecedented gathering of opponents of the Cuban government two years ago, was unexpectedly released from prison after being held for 19 months without being charged.

 

Gomez Manzano said  he had little information about what had occurred in his country since he was jailed in July 2005, but didn't think Fidel Castro's illness, or the ceding of power to his brother Raul, influenced the release.

 

Despite his jailing, Gomez Manzano, an opponent of Castro's rule since the 1980s, said he would continue his activism and said officials imposed no conditions on his release.

"They did not put any and I would not have accepted them," he said. "I am not going to change or abandon my ideas."

He also remained upbeat about the future of the communist-led island: "I am sure that change will come sooner than later."

 
But he said no charges were ever filed: "Even today I have not received a charge, a prosecutor accusing me of a concrete act, a specific crime."

"He was jailed for charges that they could not prove, not even to the slightest degree," said fellow activist Martha Beatriz Roque, who with Gomez Manzano organized the Assembly to Promote Civil Society — the dissident gathering in May 2005.

She also was also briefly arrested, but then freed after the planned embassy protest.

The government often sweepingly describes opponents as tools of the United States, which has budgeted money for dissidents and social movements in Cuba as part of a broader effort to replace Cuba's communist system.

"Before going to prison, I never received the help of any foreign government," Gomez Manzano said.

But he no longer can work as a lawyer because he was thrown out of the official lawyers' association. "My aid came from compatriots in exile," he said.

Gomez Manzero said he wasn't opposed to foreign governments giving aid in Cuba "if the aid is given without conditions" because dissidents here often lose their jobs and have no means of support.

While some dissidents have chosen to emigrate after leaving prison, Gomez Manzano said he planned to stay. He said he believed "we should make our effort here within the country."

 

BACKGROUND :

 

On July 22nd  2005, dissident attorney René Gómez Manzano was arrested with 33 peaceful democracy and human rights advocates, leaders and members of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society abd independent journalists in Havana for planning to attend an opposition protest outside the French Embassy.

 

The group had picked the French Embassy for its rally to encourage Paris to keep pressure on Cuba to free 61 dissidents imprisoned in the 2003 crackdown that led to EU diplomatic sanctions.

 

Cuban authorities have freed 24 dissidents detained. Nine are remaining in detention among. Among them three, Rene Gomez Manzano, Oscar Mario Gonzalez, and Julio Cesar Lopez, may face charges  under repressive legislation, known as Law 88.The other six are being held on much lesser public disorder charges

 

René Gómez Manzano , independent journalist Oscar Mario Gonzalez and political activist Julio Cesar Lopez will face the Law for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence, said Elizardo Sanchez of the non-governmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation. The three men told relatives they were informed of the charges by Cuban authorities.

  

On August 17, 2005, the Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil in Cuba, sent out a press release announcing that Rene Gomez Manzano, who is a member of the executive committee, declared himself on a hunger strike, or as it is known in Cuba "plantado".

The press release explains that onAugust 16, 2005, Gomez Manzano, who is being detained at the Departamento Tecnico de Investigaciones, located at Aldabo and 100 street, interrupted the weekly visit by his brother Jorge due to the humiliating conditions imposed on his family each time they wish to visit him.

Rene's bother was denied knowledge of the charges that Rene faces, and was told by the jail guard that Rene was up to date because he is a lawyer who must understand.

The current jail guard told Jorge that he could not discuss the case, nor could he pass along any messages to the prisoner and that their conversations should deal only with family matters. When Rene entered the visiting hall, it was obvious that they had also warned him of the same.

They had also warned Jorge that he could not bring food with him to give to Rene, nor was he allowed to leave personal hygiene products, even though this is routinely allowed on family visits. Rene got up and as he was leaving, told his brother that he will explain to the world that he will "plantarse", which means he is declaring himself on a hunger strike.

 

René Gómez Manzano  is a lawyer and prominent leader in the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, which organized a rare public meeting in Havana on May 20, bringing together over 100 representatives of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

 

In 1992, he created the “Corriente Agramontista,” a group of independent lawyers with the aim of peacefully promoting civil and political rights and respect for the rule of law. Following their involvement in publishing a document critical of the human rights and economic performance of the Castro regime and calling for reforms, Gómez Manzano and three of his colleagues were arrested in 1997 and accused of “counterrevolutionary activities.”

René Gómez Manzano  was jailed from July 1997 until May 2000 along with dissidents Marta Beatriz Roque, Felix Bonne and Vladimiro Roca, all of whom had criticized the Cuban Communist Party in a manifesto. All four were sentenced in 1998 to four years in prison for “acts of sedition.” The imprisoned activists became known as the “Group of Four” and their unjust imprisonment elicited a wave of international condemnation. Gómez Manzano was “conditionally released” in May 2000, although he continued his political advocacy out of jail.

© 2007 IDHAE and for the interview with René Gomez Manzano by kind permission of The Associated Press. Feb. 8, 2007

 

 

 

 

 

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