By Carlos Batista (AFP) – Feb 19, 2011
HAVANA — Cuba's government on Saturday freed independent journalist Ivan Hernandez, the third release in eight days of a political prisoner refusing to leave the communist-ruled nation and go into exile.
Hernandez, 39, was arrested in 2003. He was among some 52 opponents of the regime President Raul Castro had promised to release last July in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.
"I am free. I will keep writing, as I did from prison and as I will now from the street. I will write of the events that affect ordinary Cubans," Hernandez defiantly told AFP by telephone from his home in Matanzas, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of the capital.
"A major from the Interior Ministry told me that since I was being released from jail, that I should stay quiet at my home. But I told him that I was going to keep writing and working as an independent journalist just like before they convicted me" to 25 years in prison when he was working for the Patria (Fatherland) dissident news agency, the dissident added.
Forty of the original 52 have been released and accepted exile in Spain, while 12 refused to leave their home country.
Half of the remaining dozen have now been freed, including Hernandez on Saturday and two others the previous week.
One of the men who had refused to be forced to leave the country, Angel Moya, said he was actually freed against his will because the government required him to leave without formally erasing his conviction.
He thus can be thrown back in jail if authorities want without holding a new trial, something he fought to avoid but could not, according to Moya.
"We are going to keep marching in spite of the releases to demand that all peaceful political prisoners be set free," said Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White group of relatives of dissidents pressing for their freedom.
In a parallel initiative, the government is releasing to Spain many other prisoners it sees as "counterrevolutionary" because they have caused problems for state security; dissidents, however, do not see most of them as political prisoners because they have not been dissident political activists.
Some for example were jailed after trying to hijack vessels to leave the country illegally.
On Friday, the mother of late Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata said she and 12 relatives have been issued visas to emigrate to the United States, even as authorities detained her for several hours before freeing her.
Zapata died last February at age 42, on the 85th day of a hunger strike, sparking international outrage against Havana.
The former construction worker had been jailed since 2003 and deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He went on hunger strike to protest prison conditions he blamed for his deteriorating health.
Communist-ruled Cuba's opposition was preparing to mark the first anniversary of Zapata's death on Wednesday.
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