The BBC has published this morning a report on the various statements given to the media during press conferences by the released political prisoners exiled to Spain by the Cuban regime.

The article quotes them describing the conditions on which they were kept, the abuses they suffered in prison, and the lasting consequences of their unjust imprisonment:

[…]here in Spain, the former prisoners have been giving disturbing details of their years behind bars.

"I spent 18 months in solitary confinement," Lester Gonzalez told the BBC, showing a court paper which detailed his 20-year prison sentence.

"[I was] in the dark, with my hands tied; with rats and cockroaches and excrement everywhere. That was all I could smell."

[…]they've described crowded and filthy prison cells where they were denied drinking water for days; often, the only food was "giraffe soup" - so watery, the prisoner stretched his neck searching for some kind of nutritional content.

"I went into prison weighing 86kg, now I'm 48kg," said Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, one of several men now suffering serious medical complaints.

"That's the effect of my prison time: chronic illness for rest of my life," explained Mr Garcia Paneque, now a shrunken figure with hollow cheeks.

[…]The men, who were held with ordinary Cuban criminals, recounted how prisoners routinely inflicted serious injuries upon themselves to get even basic medical attention from prison staff.

In one case, they said a man jabbed needles in his eyes but was left unattended for two days.

They denounced their forced exile, and that although released from jail, their sentences are still in effect, and they could be imprisoned should they ever be able to return to Cuba (something for which the regime has said they will need a permit):

"The Cuban government has been categorical: we have to get permission to return to the place we were born in," said Julio Cesar Galvez, who describes his arrival in Spain as deportation.

"We are not free. We are not immigrants here. Quite simply, we are refugees."

Cuban Church officials say 20 prisoners have agreed to come to Spain. As their criminal convictions have not been overturned, they say exile was the only option.

"If I leave prison, but I can't work to support my family, that's not freedom," explained Mr Galvez, who was sentenced to 15 years for his work as an independent journalist.

"If I'm still harassed, if they follow us, listen to our phone calls and want to know where we're going and what we're doing - we're not free," he said.

The opposition activists warned the EU and the rest of the international community against being too optimistic and seeing the move by the regime as a sign of change:

[…]the former prisoners say it would be "unacceptable" to see their release as proof that the Cuban government's approach to human rights has improved.

"Real improvement would mean new laws, no more repression or arrests of human rights activists," one said, adding that included his own right to return home without fear of prison again.

Another mentioned freedom of speech, and a third called the government's move a "smoke-screen" ahead of an EU review of its common position on Cuba this autumn.

Entire article with more pictures at the link.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
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