Castro opponent free after 17 years in jail

HAVANA Mon Apr 23, 2007 6:38pm EDT

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Jorge Luis Garcia Antunez, one of Cuba's longest-serving political prisoners, stepped free after serving his full prison term of 17 years and 34 days, dissident sources said on Monday.

Antunez, now 42, went home to Placetas in central Cuba on Sunday and headed for the cemetery where his mother was buried while he was jailed, fellow dissident Guillermo Farinas said.

Antunez was 25 when he was jailed for spreading "enemy propaganda" after he grabbed the microphone on a stage during a musical recital in Placetas and began shouting slogans against President Fidel Castro.

Antunez also was convicted of sabotage after authorities accused him of setting fire to sugar cane fields, a charge of violence that he denied but which meant he was not considered a prisoner of conscience by international rights groups.

Other dissidents have called Antunez Cuba's Nelson Mandela because he was the longest-serving jailed black opponent of Cuba's communist government.

Antunez continued to rebel in prison, where he founded a political prisoner group named after Pedro Luis Boitel, a jailed dissident who died in a hunger strike in 1972. He wrote a book on prison conditions in Cuba called "Boitel Lives."

"He looks very thin. He said he will fight for the release of other political detainees," said Farinas, who last year went on a hunger strike to demand Internet access for all Cubans.

Human rights activists say there are some 280 Cubans in prison for political reasons.

The government says there are no political prisoners and labels dissidents "counter-revolutionaries" and "mercenaries" who are on the payroll of its enemy, the United States, to undermine socialism in Cuba.

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