April 28, 2004 (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) -- Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a blind Christian human rights lawyer, was given a four year sentence yesterday for his stand for human rights in Cuba.
He was tried in his home town of Ciego de Avila and no international observers were allowed at the trial, only relatives of the defendants. He was convicted of 'disrespect against the Head of State' along with other charges of 'public disorder, disobedience, and resisting authority'. The authorities have not yet specified whether the two years he has already spent in prison will count towards the four year sentence. Juan Carlos acted as his own lawyer and he was tried along with nine others, one of which, according to family members at the trial, was revealed as a state agent. He is currently being held under house arrest.
Juan Carlos was arrested in March 2002 with nine others who had gathered at a local hospital in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of a journalist who had been admitted there after being attacked by Cuban police. The group entered the hospital where they prayed for the hospitalised reporter and shouted slogans like "Up with human rights" and "Christ the King lives". They then sat down in a side hallway in silent protest. An hour later the group was surrounded by the rapid response unit of the local security forces who beat them before taking them into custody. Juan Carlos was severely beaten by government security agents and suffered a blow to the head, which required four stitches.
Juan Carlos has carried out a number of lengthy hunger strikes to protest his arrest and his health has suffered greatly as a result. He has reported ongoing mistreatment at the hands of the prison authorities.
Juan Carlos has been active in the Cuban democracy movement and the Varela Project (a petition of those calling for a national referendum on whether people favour civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the right to free assembly).
CSW met with him three weeks before his arrest. At the time he spoke of his hope for the future of human rights and democracy in Cuba.
Tina Lambert, CSW's Advocacy Director, said: "Once again the Cuban authorities have mistreated and sentenced a man simply for standing up for human rights. Cuba has been recently condemned by the UN and the European Parliament for its treatment of human rights dissidents. Yesterday's decision is further proof of the authorities' disregard for justice and resistance to international pressure. Our thoughts and prayers are with Juan Carlos and his wife Maritza at this time."
For more information or a photo of Juan Carlos, please contact Richard Chilvers, Communications Manager, CSW at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 020 8329 0045 or visit www.csw.org.uk
CSW is a human rights charity working on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs. We also promote religious liberty for all.