Death of Political Prisoner in Cuba Exposes Systemic Prison Maltreatment and Torture

Washington

Freedom House condemns the Cuban government for the deplorable prison conditions, torture, and lack of medical attention that led to the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
 
Mr. Zapata Tamayo, aged 42, died in Havana's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital Wednesday after carrying out an 85-day hunger strike to protest prison conditions and torture in Cuba.  Originally incarcerated during the “Black Spring of 2003,” his sentence was extended in 2004 from 3 to 36 years for so-called “acts of disobedience.” In December 2009, he began a hunger strike to protest systemic maltreatment and torture of himself and others in Cuba’s prisons.  Zapata Tamayo died of pneumonia and kidney failure after being refused water for 18 days and placed in front of an air conditioner for an extended period.
 
“The Castro regime’s inhumane treatment of political prisoners has resulted in the death of an innocent man and our deepest condolences go out to Reina Tamayo Danger, Orlando’s mother,” said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. “Mr. Zapata Tamayo’s death is an example of the systemic abuse suffered by those who espouse freedom and human rights in Cuba today and must be condemned immediately by the international community.”
 
Zapata Tamayo’s death is the first time in almost four decades that a Cuban political prisoner has died by hunger strike.  Pedro Luis Boitel, a youth leader and poet, died in 1972 while protesting government repression.  Raul Castro repeated the Cuban government’s claim that torture does not exist in Cuba and blamed the United States for the political prisoner’s death without elaborating further. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, after requesting to visit Cuba for several years was finally issued an invitation in January 2009. The visit, which was to have taken place in the fall of 2009, has never materialized. Since Zapata Tamayo’s death, the Cuban government has detained more than 20 activists seeking to express solidarity with his mother, Reina.
 
Cuba is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.
For more information on Cuba, visit:
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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