Cuba charges leading dissident with attempted murder

HAVANA (Reuters) - The leader of one of Cuba’s largest and most active opposition organizations was charged Friday with attempted murder after being held incommunicado for a week in eastern Cuba.

FILE PHOTO: Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, holds up a t-shirt as he gives an interview to Reuters in his home at Palmarito de Cauto March 25, 2012. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was charged with deliberately trying to run over an official from the ministry of the interior on Aug. 3, a spokesman for the group told Reuters by telephone.

According to Carlos Amel Oliva, a member of the UNPACU leadership, the incident was an accident and the official was only slightly injured.

Oliva said Ferrer, who does not have a driver’s license, was on his way to visit his daughter with UNPACU member Ebert Hidalgo Cruz and had taken the wheel to practice driving when the official, in civilian clothing, stepped out in front of the car.

“He stepped out onto the road and he (Ferrer) braked and swerved and lightly hit the person who got up and mounted his motorcycle,” Oliva said.

Ferrer is being held in preventive detention.

“The accusation is completely false. There are witnesses who say it was the official who stepped onto the road,” Oliva said.

Hidalgo is also in custody, but has not yet been charged.

The Cuban government was not immediately available for comment.

Amnesty International demanded earlier on Friday, before the charges were made public, that the Cuban government clarify Ferrer’s status and allow him to see his family and obtain a lawyer.

The U.S. government demanded on Wednesday that the two men be released.

Cuba’s Communist-run government considers all opponents to be agents of the United States and regularly detains them for a few hours to a few days.

UNPACU has been battling the government for years and a few of its members have been imprisoned for longer periods.

Ferrer was imprisoned in 2003, along with 74 other dissidents in a nationwide crackdown. He was released on parole in 2011 and soon after formed UNPACU.

Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by James Dalgleish