Cuban protest group Ladies in White welcomes top EU rights prize
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Thursday, October 27, 2005
HAVANA, Cuba (AFP): The wives, mothers and sisters of a group of jailed Cuban dissidents, the so-called "Ladies in White", welcomed Wednesday the European Parliament's top annual human rights prize, the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.
The Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco) gathered early Wednesday in the home of member Laura Pollan to celebrate the honor, which they share with Reporters Without Borders and a Nigerian lawyer.
"It's great support before the world. We are going to continue to pursue the truly great prize: the liberty of our prisoners," Pollan told AFP.
Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, is one of 75 dissidents opposed to the Cuban government of Fidel Castro who was arrested and sentenced to a jail term in May 2003. Fourteen of them have since been freed for health reasons.
Miriam Leiva, wife of economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was condemned to 20 years in prison but released in 2004 on health grounds, said the prize "sends a message to the government that right is on our side."
"The prize conveys the message to the Cuban government that it should change its ways and stop this repression and liberate our prisoners," Leiva said.
Dressed in white to symbolize innocence and purity, the Ladies in White have met every Sunday since the 2003 crackdown in protest against the imprisonment of their husbands, sons and brothers, regularly facing abuse and sometimes violence.
The Sakharov Prize recognizes achievement in the field of human rights, protecting minorities, defence of international cooperation or the development of democracy and the rule of law.
It is not the first time the European Parliament's rights award, named after the former Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded to those opposing Castro's government.
The Sakharov Prize was awarded to leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya in 2002.
The European Union launched sanctions against President Fidel Castro's regime over the arrest of the dissidents.
This year the 25-state bloc has preferred to rely on economic and political persuasion to improve life in Cuba, which is heavily reliant on tourism and where one in five people live in poverty.
According to Cuba's banned National Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, Castro's government is holding at least 300 political prisoners.
In an unusual step, the 50,000-euro (60,374-dollar) prize, which will be given in December, was awarded to all three finalists.
The other winners were Reporters Without Borders, an international non-government organization that defends journalists and freedom of the press, and Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, who has represented women facing death by stonings and worked against the improper use of Islamic Sharia law.