Dissidents in Cuba
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December 2007
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Police beat dissidents in Cuban church

Police beat dissidents in Cuban church
Wed Dec 5, 2007 5:32pm EST

HAVANA (Reuters) – Plainclothes police kicked their way into a Roman
Catholic church in eastern Cuba, beat and used pepper spray on a group
of dissidents, church officials and rights activists said on Wednesday.

They said seven people were arrested on Tuesday when police entered the
parish church of Santa Teresita in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city,
in search of government opponents.

"I thought the church was on fire when I heard all the shouting," parish
priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez said by phone.

He said police handcuffed the detainees who were among a group of two
dozen people who had marched through the streets protesting the arrest
of a fellow dissident.

The dissidents, dressed in black, arrived at Rodriguez's church to
attend Mass and mingled with parishioners.

"I told the police they acted like barbarians. They kicked their way
into the parish, beating people and spraying gas in their eyes," the
priest said.

Rodriguez, an outspoken critic of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, said the
police action was led by a lieutenant colonel of the state security
forces, who was dressed in civilian clothes and gave him no explanations.

During a sermon in 1994, Rodriguez read a letter he wrote to Castro
criticizing the Cuban Coast Guard for ramming a tugboat that had been
commandeered by people attempting to sail to the United States. The tug
sank and 40 drowned.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba deplored Wednesday's incident,
which occurred at a time of improved relations between Cuba's ruling
Communist Party and the church.

"We hope it is an isolated thing. The fact that the police burst into a
church is serious," said Jose Felix Perez, a spokesman for the bishops.

The Cuban government had no immediate comment.

Cuba's main rights group, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, condemned what it termed a "most serious and
almost unprecedented act of political repression" and called for an
official inquiry.

A woman who was beaten and arrested in the church was released early on
Wednesday because she had recently given birth, the group said. Another
man who took part in the dissident march was picked up by police on
Wednesday, it said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, editing by Philip Barbara)


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