Cuban street protester sentenced to 10 years in prison: family and NGO

Havana (AFP) – A Cuban man who took part in unprecedented nationwide street protests last July has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, the stiffest punishment yet of anyone who defied the communist government in those rallies, his family and a human rights group said Saturday.


The sentence against Roberto Perez Fonseca, age 38, was handed down by a court in San Jose de las Lajas, a town 35 kilometers (20 miles) from Havana.

On July 11 and 12 thousands of Cubans screaming "freedom" and "we are hungry" took to the streets in some 50 cities and towns to protest harsh living conditions and government repression.

The rallies, which had no precedent since the Cuban revolution of 1959, left at least one person dead and dozens injured as security forces cracked down.

Around 1,130 people were arrested, and more than half of them remain in jail, says the Miami-based human rights group Cubalex.

The court said Perez Fonseca was guilty of contempt, public disorder and instigation to commit a crime.

The sentence, dated October 6, was seen by AFP after Perez Fonseca's family was notified this week.

Three judges at the court heard from a sole witness, Jorge Luis Garcia Montero, a local policeman in San Jose de las Lajas. Two people who wanted to testify for the defense -- a relative and a friend of Perez Fonseca -- were barred as being partial.

On the day of the protests Perez Fonseca incited other people to throw rocks and bottles, the police officer said. He said the defendant threw a rock that hit him in the wrist and another that struck a police car, the sentencing document reads.

Perez Fonseca, a father of two, was arrested at his mother's home on July 16.

The sentence "is excessive and violates all guarantees of due process," said Laritza Diversent, head of Cubalex.

She said the jail term -- the longest handed out against anyone for taking part in the July protests -- seemed intended to scare people into refraining from future demonstrations.

Another protest rally has been called for November 15. The government has banned it and warned people of criminal consequences if they take part.

Cuba's government says the July protests were part of a US-backed strategy to topple the Havana regime.

Perez Fonseca's mother, Liset Fonseca, said she thinks the real reason for her son's long prison term is that at the protest he tore up a picture of communist icon Fidel Castro and challenged the police officer Garcia Montero as he arrested another man.

"They had to do something to make an example of him," she said.