- Title: POPE-CUBA/PRISONERS Cuba to pardon 3,522 prisoners ahead of pope's visit
- Date: 11th September 2015
- Summary: HAVANA, CUBA (SEPTEMBER 11, 2015) (REUTERS) JESUIT CHURCH IN HAVANA EXTERIOR A POSTER WITH A PICTURE OF POPE FRANCIS FOR HIS UPCOMING VISIT, SEPT 19-22 VARIOUS OF A MAN READING THE NEWSPAPER ANNOUNCING LIBERATION OF PRISONERS
- Embargoed: 26th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Cuba
- Country: Cuba
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA3LTNQLSTTD6VXT6V4S43O3AIP
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL ORIGINAL IN 4:3
Cuba said on Friday (September 11) it would pardon and release 3,522 prisoners on the occasion of the Sept. 19-22 visit by Pope Francis, repeating similar actions it took ahead of two previous papal visits.
There was no immediate indication whether those to be pardoned included people considered political prisoners by dissidents or human rights organisations.
Cuba, which officially denies it has political prisoners, said those convicted of crimes against state security would not be among the 3,522 to be pardoned and released within three days. The announcement of pardons was made by presenter Humberto Lopez on the state-run media.
"The Council of State of the Republic of Cuba agreed, on the occasion of His Holiness Pope Francis's visit, and similar to what happened when popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited, to pardon 3,522 prisoners, taking into account the nature of the crimes which they were committed, their behaviour in prison, the time they have served and health considerations," said Lopez.
Cuba released about 300 prisoners including 101 political prisoners ahead of Pope John Paul's landmark visit in 1998, said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the human rights commission. Cuba freed 2,900 common prisoners ahead of the 2012 visit by Pope Benedict.
More recently, Cuba released 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the Dec. 17 announcement of detente with United States. Cuba at that time also freed American aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been held for five years, and a Cuban man who had been caught spying for the Americans, the latter in exchange for three Cuban spies held in the United States.
Among those to be released now are prisoners older than 60, those younger than 20 with no previous criminal history, the chronically ill, women, some who were due for conditional release in 2016, and foreigners whose repatriation could be assured, Cuba said, in an announcement that was received positively by many Cubans.
"It is a positive measure, that despite what these people have done they will be pardoned. I do not know what brought about this process but I see it as a positive measure," said Cuban citizen, Lazaro, in Havana.
Those who will not be pardoned, with a few humanitarian exceptions, include people convicted of murder, rape, child abuse, cattle rustling or illegal slaughter, drug trafficking, and offences against state security.
Cuban actress Kenia Ortiz expressed her support for the measure in an interview on state television, but stressed that high-level criminals must continue to serve their time.
"Justice is something that everyone longs for. I think that if there are people who have ongoing cases regarding high-level crimes, then they should serve their sentences, but if there are the conditions for the sentence to be revised and these people to be given their freedom then I have nothing against that," said Ortiz.
"If they have learnt, if they completed their sentence, then I think it is something very good," added tourism professional, Marlenys Sabater, as the news spread along with images of Pope Francis decorating Havana.
The exemptions would rule out freedom for some of the estimated 60 people identified as political prisoners by the dissident Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Among these 60 are seven armed anti-government infiltrators, about a dozen who hijacked or attempted to hijack a plane or boats to leave the country, four armed soldiers and a civilian collaborator who helped them try to desert, and others accused of violence or spying.
However, the commission also says about two dozen peaceful political activists are held as political prisoners on the Communist-ruled Caribbean island.
Among the most celebrated is artist Danilo Maldonado, alias "El Sexto," who is awaiting trial on a charge of "disrespect" for painting "Fidel" and "Raul" on a pair of pigs in a satire of former President Fidel Castro and his brother, current President Raul Castro, the commission said.
Neither the commission nor the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country's largest dissident group, knew of any releases as of Friday morning, its leaders said.
The Roman Catholic Church in Cuba would not comment on the pardons until bishops had met to discuss them, a church spokesman said.
Francis' visit this month is part of steadily improving relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church after decades of strained ties in the years after the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.
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