By WILL WEISSERT - Associated Press Writer
A Cuban court found prominent opposition leader Darsy Ferrer guilty of purchasing black-market cement on Tuesday, but he was released on time served since it took nearly a year for his case to go to trial.
Human rights officials say that Ferrer was arrested for a common crime officials usually overlook - or punish with a simple fine - in an attempt to silence his criticism of the government.
Ferrer's trial was closed to the media and most of the public, but his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, said he was found guilty of purchasing black-market building materials and was ordered released. He is supposed to serve the roughly four months remaining on his 15-month sentence at the couple's Havana home.
"I think what happened inside was the fair outcome. It's what we've waited for since the beginning," Jorge told reporters outside the courthouse in the Cuban capital's 10 de Octubre district. "We only wanted to repair our home."
Ferrer was taken to a police station for processing, but was expected to head home soon.
While other prisoners arrived at court together in a van, Ferrer was brought in a police car with two Ministry of Interior agents wearing green uniforms.
Jorge and about 30 relatives and supporters, many of them self-described dissidents, waited outside the courthouse for about two hours, occasionally shouting "Liberty!" and anti-government slogans. Jorge was allowed to enter when her husband's trial started.
Diplomats from the United States, Britain and a few other nations stood in the shade of nearby trees, but they made no comment and left before the verdict was announced. Cuban state security agents in plain clothes watched from surrounding street corners.
A physician, Ferrer is among Cuba's most prominent dissidents. Like most of those, however, he is better known abroad than in his own country, where the state-run media almost never mentions him.
In years past, he organized tiny street demonstrations to mark International Human Rights Day in December, but he has been in prison since July 21, 2009.
The state controls nearly all construction under Cuba's communist system and many people turn to private sources for quicker repairs. Cement and scores of other building materials supplied that way are often pilfered from state stocks.
Ferrer and his wife said they obtained the cement to repair a collapsing wall in their home, and didn't expect it to become a political issue.
Ferrer's release after being held without trial for 11 months could add to signs Cuba's government is softening its stance toward organized dissent.
The government of Raul Castro recently promised Roman Catholic Church leaders to move political prisoners to facilities closer to home, and to give better access to medical care for inmates who need it.
So far, 12 prisoners have been transferred and one, Ariel Sigler, was released for health reasons. Sigler was a boxer when he entered prison seven years ago, but is now confined to a wheelchair.
He was one of 75 leading community organizers, opposition activists and independent journalists arrested in March 2003 during a crackdown on dissent and charged with conspiring with Washington to destabilize Cuba's government - charges both those arrested and U.S. authorities denied.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent, Havana-based, National Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, says Cuba holds 180 political prisoners, a list that had included Ferrer.
Cuban officials say they hold no political prisoners and have the right to jail traitors.
H/T to Marc Masferrer