BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A Cuban court sentenced dissident Darsi Ferrer to 15 months in prison but sent him home Tuesday in what activists saw as a government decision to end his status as a political prisoner. Ferrer, a doctor jailed for 11 months while awaiting trial on charges of illegal possession of building materials and attacking a neighbor, will serve the next four months under house arrest.

But Ferrer said he would not accept the sentence and vowed to continue his dissident activities even if it landed him back in jail.

``Today my compromise with the Cuban people is higher than when they sent me to prison,'' he told El Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview from Havana. ``I know that many [dissident] brothers and thousands of other Cubans remain in prison in sub-human conditions.''

The decision to let him serve the rest of the sentence outside prison was nevertheless seen by other activists as a positive gesture.

``The government took advantage of the trial to close the case because . . . [returning him to prison] would have meant a step back in its effort to show a friendlier face on prisoners of conscience,'' said human-rights activist Elizardo Sánchez.

Ferrer, 40, was named a ``prisoner of conscience'' by Amnesty International in February and received an honorable mention in the 2009 ``Defenders of Freedom'' prize awarded by the U.S. State Department.

Prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence, said his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge. But Raúl Castro's government has been negotiating with Catholic church leaders for the release of some political prisoners and the transfer of others to institutions closer to their homes.

Although Ferrer was charged with common crimes, he and his supporters have steadfastly maintained that the government was trying to silence his political activism.

He is director of the nongovernment Health and Human Rights Center Juan Bruno Zayas and has organized the annual marches in central Havana making World Human Rights day on Dec. 10.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
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