Amnesty: Cuba releases 3 prisoners of conscience 

Amnesty International said Monday that three Cubans held without charge for 52 days following their arrest at a protest were released last week, hours after the human rights group named them as prisoners of conscience.

The release of the three also came a day after a hunger-striking dissident died, prompting condemnation from island dissidents, rights watchers, the United States and other nations. Amnesty had planned to designate Wilman Villar, 31, a prisoner of conscience but he died in custody before it could.

Ivonne Malleza Galano, Ignacio Martinez Montejo and Isabel Haydee Alvarez were set free Jan. 20 but threatened with "harsh sentences" if they do not stop their anti-government actions, the human rights monitor said in a statement Monday.

It said all three were detained at a Nov. 30 protest in Havana at which Malleza and Martinez held a banner that read "Stop hunger, misery and poverty in Cuba." Alvarez was arrested for objecting when security forces took the other two into custody.

"Amnesty International had adopted them as prisoners of conscience, as they were detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and had called for their immediate and unconditional release," the statement said.

Cuba considers dissident activity to be counterrevolutionary, and the dissidents to be mercenaries out to bring down the communist-run government. It denies holding any political prisoners in its lockups.

Amnesty, which has strict criteria for who constitutes a "prisoner of conscience" including a history of nonviolence, had not recognized any Cuban inmates as such since the previous spring, when the last of 75 dissidents jailed since a 2003 crackdown were freed.

Villar was arrested in November in the eastern city of Santiago following an anti-government protest.

The Cuban government denied that he had been on hunger strike or was even truly a dissident. It described him as a "common criminal" sent to prison for domestic violence, said he received all the medical attention he needed and alleged that his case was being manipulated for political ends.

Authorities' indignation continued Monday as official newspapers Granma and Trabajadores published an editorial titled "Cuba's Truths." Taking up the entire front pages of both publications, it attacked critics' own records on human rights and defended the island, citing achievements in health care, education and literacy, and calling the accusations a smear campaign by Cuba's enemies.

"The so-called political prisoner was serving a sentence of four years, following a fair process ... and a trial according to the rule of law, for brutally and publicly beating his wife, threatening police and violently resisting arrest," the editorial said

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors detentions of dissidents in Cuba, sent an open letter to the government demanding access to the investigation.

It said it wanted to confirm or rule out its belief that Villar was unfairly and disproportionately punished for his political activities, held in solitary confinement and given inadequate medical care when he went on hunger strike. Signed by Commission founder Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident and former prisoner himself, the letter doubted that Villar was truly imprisoned for beating his wife.

"The family incident from July 2011 should be clarified, as well as the reasons why he would be freed and sent back to the family home despite the possible risks from a supposed situation of domestic violence," it read.

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