We would like to bring to your attention the case of Juan Carlos Gonzalez
Leiva, a blind Cuban lawyer, volunteer librarian and human rights defender
who is to be put on trial today, April 26. For two years Juan Carlos Gonzalez
Leiva has been unjustly imprisoned after he and a group of other people
protested the arrest of a Cuban journalist. After being brutalized and jailed for
two years under grim conditions, Juan Carlos is about to be tried for
"disrespect for authority," which can result in a prison term of six years. Soon after
his arrest, the independent library of which he is the director was raided by
the Cuban secret police, resulting in the confiscation of his library
collection, including books in Braille. Since 1998, more than 200 independent libraries
have been founded in Cuba to challenge the government's claimed monopoloy on
information, and Juan Carlos is a leader of this movement. The World Blind
Union has already expressed concern about his mistreatment
(http://www.disabilityworld.org/04-05_02/news/wbu.shtml). Details about the upcoming trial of Juan
Carlos Gonzalez Leiva are printed below in a report issued by Human Rights
Watch, the respected international human rights organization.
After reading the background information on his case, we would like to
ask you to generously consider sending a brief message about the situation of
Mr. Gonzalez Leiva to Cuban officials. We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a
support group for Cuban intellectual freedom activists, know from experience
that the Cuban government is concerned about its international image and is
often sensitive to criticism from abroad. If enough people around the world
protest the false and unjust charges being made against Juan Carlos, this brave and
innocent blind man may be released from custody, along with his co-defendants.
But fast action is needed to inform the Cuban government of your concern.
ACTION NEEDED: The Friends of Cuban Libraries are asking the public to
send prompt appeals to President Fidel Castro on behalf of Juan Carlos Gonzalez
Leiva and his co-defendants. Courteous appeals can be sent to President Castro
c/o the Cuban delegation to the United Nations at: ([log in to unmask])Â with COPIES
to ([log in to unmask]) AND ([log in to unmask]).
Thank you for taking the time to consider this message, and please be
assured that the small amount of time needed to send a brief letter to President
Castro WILL have an impact. Your compassionate assistance in this matter will
be deeply appreciated.
The Friends of Cuban Libraries
From Human Rights Watch:
Trial Violates Dissidentsâ Right to Free Expression
(New York, April 22, 2004) â Cubaâs planned trial of a blind human rights
lawyer, along with nine other dissidents and independent journalists, on
of âdisrespect for authorityâ demonstrates a continuing pattern of political
repression, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has learned
that the trial of the 10 defendants is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, April
27. [NOTE: The trial date has been changed to TODAY, April 26].
Juan Carlos GonzĂĄlez Leiva, a blind lawyer, is the president of the Cuban
Foundation for Human Rights (FundaciĂłn Cubana de Derechos Humanos). He and
of the other defendants have been held in pretrial detention in eastern
province for more than two years.
âThe upcoming trial is a travesty,â said Joanne Mariner, deputy director of
Human Rights Watchâs Americas Division. âThe defendants face criminal
that clearly violate their basic rights to freedom of expression.â
The defendants were arrested on March 4, 2002 at Antonio Luaces Iraola
Provincial Hospital in Ciego de Ăvila (a town in central Cuba), and held
formal charges for six months. They are now reportedly being prosecuted for
crimes of disrespect to the President (desacato al Presidente), disrespect to
the police, public disorder and resistance.
Among the defendants are seven political activists (LĂĄzaro Iglesias Estrada,
Enrique GarcĂa MorejĂłn, Antonio Marcelino GarcĂa MorejĂłn, Delio Laureano
Requejo RodrĂguez, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Odalmis HernĂĄndez MĂĄrquez, and
PelĂĄez GarcĂa) and at least two independent journalists (LĂ©xter TĂ©llez Castro
Carlos Brizuela Yera).
GonzĂĄlez Leiva, the blind lawyer, reportedly faces a six-year sentence, while
the other defendants face sentences ranging from two and a half to seven
years. The criminal indictment against GonzĂĄlez Leiva, which Human Rights
has reviewed, notes critically that âhe was not integrated into mass
organizations and was not involved in any socially useful activities.â
The defendants were arrested when they visited the hospital to see an
independent journalist who had reportedly been attacked by the police earlier
day while he was traveling to a meeting of the Cuban Foundation for Human
Rights. At the hospital, members of the group shouted statements such as
live human rights.â Reacting with disproportional severity to this minor
disruption, state security police arrested the group. The police reportedly
GonzĂĄlez Leiva when they arrested him, leaving him with a cut on his forehead
required four stitches.
The denial of basic civil and political rights is written into Cuban law. A
number of criminal law provisions grant the state extraordinary power to
prosecute people who attempt to exercise basic rights to free expression,
association, and assembly. The countryâs courts also deny defendants
internationally-recognized guarantees of due process, including the right to
hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.
Under Cuban law, the crime of disrespect for authority (desacato) covers
anyone who âthreatens, libels or slanders, defames, affronts or in any other
insults or offends, with the spoken word or in writing, the dignity or
of an authority, public functionary, or his agents or auxiliaries.â Such
actions are punishable by three months to one year in prison. If the person
disrespect to the president the sanction is deprivation of liberty for one to
In March 2003, police detained scores of political dissidents and others
viewed as "counter-revolutionary" in their thinking. By early April, the
courts had sentenced 75 defendantsâincluding such prominent figures as RaĂșl
Rivero, the poet and journalist, and HĂ©ctor Palacios, a leader in the
movementâto prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.
Last week, on April 15, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva passed a
resolution criticizing Cubaâs human rights practices. The resolution stated
that the Commission âdeplores the events which occurred last year in Cuba,â
reference to the trials and sentencing of the 75 dissidents.
âThe impending trial continues the repressive trend that was so glaringly
evident last year in Cuba,â Mariner said.