August 15, 2018 / 6:02 PM / 2 months ago

Cuba frees leading dissident charged with attempted murder

HAVANA (Reuters) - A leading Cuban dissident said he was freed from jail on Wednesday, 12 days after his arrest for attempted murder following a car crash in which he hit and injured an official from the Communist-run island’s interior ministry.

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), told Reuters he had been held incommunicado since his arrest over the traffic incident on Aug. 3.

Ferrer is accused of deliberately trying to run over a government official. Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department and others had demanded his release.

“They have not taken away the charge of attempted murder. They simply lifted my preventive detention,” Ferrer said in a telephone interview.

Based on previous experience, he suggested it could be months or even years before authorities offer any clarity about his legal status and how the case against him might end.

“The investigation is continuing to decide if it goes to court. In 2012 they charged me with organizing public disturbances and six years later they have not brought me before the court,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer gives an interview to Reuters inside his home in Palmarito de Cauto March 25, 2012. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

Ferrer claims the incident was an accident and the official was only slightly injured.

Ferrer was on his way to visit his daughter with UNPACU member Ebert Hidalgo Cruz when the vehicle he was driving struck the government official, according to a statement UNPACU posted on YouTube.

It said he has no license to drive but had taken the wheel to practice, when the official suddenly drove his motorcycle in front of the vehicle.

Hildago, who was also arrested but freed earlier this week, said Ferrer swerved to avoid the official, who was only slightly injured and drove away from the scene.

The two men were arrested in their Santiago homes later in the day.

Government officials were not immediately available to comment on Ferrer’s release and the status of the case against him.

The Cuban government considers all dissidents to be agents of the United States. It regularly detains them for a few hours or days, as part of what critics and human rights groups describe as a long-running campaign of harassment and repression.

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, which has become one of Cuba’s largest and most active opposition organizations.

Additional reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown

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