By Maura Ewing
Monday, October 31, 2011
Relatives of political prisoners in Cuba--many of them women--are fighting to curb abuses they say family members suffer during incarceration. One of the most prominent opposition groups, Ladies in White, meets on Sundays.
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Four women stood with anti-government signs in a well-trafficked square in Havana.
They were members of Ladies in White, a group that formed in 2003 after 75 political dissidents were jailed.
Dressed in white--the color of peace--they march to Catholic mass to pray for human rights and the release of relatives and loved ones in prison.
The group has been meeting on Sundays across Cuba for years. But this particular small demonstration a couple of months ago--on Aug. 23 in Havana--proved momentous. When a plain-clothes police officer came to break up the women, some nearby people defended the women and forced the officer to leave in search of backup.
It wasn't the first time bystanders had aided the women, but because it was in such a busy area, it was the first time such an action was caught on video with cell-phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube the very next day.
"It was visible proof, released to an international audience over YouTube, that there is an increasing support for the resistance movement," said Aramis Perez, a leader of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance, based in Miami, Fla.
Often, he said, reports filed from Havana are censored or written by government supporters and describe activist groups as "small and fragmented."
Two days later Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, published a call to stop the repression of the Ladies in White.
Police and government officials have violently attacked individuals and groups of female political dissidents on at least 25 occasions this year--sometimes while the women were engaged in nonviolent protest, and other times while they were with their families at home--according to a report released by the Assembly of Cuban Resistance in August. The report, "Cuba: Violent Aggressions Against Women, Human Rights Defenders," was based on daily communication with activist groups in Cuba.
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