April 23, 2007 / 6:07 PM / 10 years ago

Cuban gets 12 years for anti-Castro graffiti

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban dissident who wrote "Down with Fidel Castro" and other opposition slogans on walls of public buildings was sentenced to 12 years in jail, a human rights group said on Monday.

Rolando Jimenez had been held without charges in a jail on the Island of Youth off Cuba's southern coast since his arrest in March 2003, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights said.

Amnesty International declared Jimenez a prisoner of conscience in 2004.

Jimenez, a 36-year-old lawyer, was not allowed to defend himself in court and was sentenced in a secret trial to 12 years for disrespecting the Cuban leader and divulging secrets of the state security police, the rights group said.

Veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the illegal but tolerated commission, said Jimenez was the second dissident to be tried secretly this month by Cuba's communist authorities.

"This is a clear sign than they are getting tough on dissident activity again," Sanchez said.

Dissident journalist Oscar Sanchez, who reported for a Miami-based Web site called CubaNet, was arrested at his home April 13 and sentenced to four years in jail on a charge of "social dangerousness," he said.

He was not allowed a lawyer and his family was barred from attending the brief trial in the town of Matanzas, unlike previous cases of dissident trials, Sanchez said.

In a March 2003 crackdown, Cuba rounded up 75 dissidents and tried them for collaborating with the United States. Only 16 have been freed, for medical reasons.

Castro's government, in power since a 1959 revolution, says there are no political prisoners in Cuba and labels dissidents "counter-revolutionary mercenaries" on Washington's payroll.

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