HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban court on Tuesday convicted a political dissident of buying cement on the black market, but decided to let him out of prison, resolving a case that sparked a diplomatic spat between Cuba and several European Union nations.
Jailed since July, 40-year-old Darsi Ferrer must spend three more months under house arrest.
Purchasing items on the black market is illegal in Cuba, but it is common practice. Ferrer also was convicted of verbally assaulting a neighbor.
Ferrer, a physician, angered the government by leading street demonstrations along the Malecon, Havana’s seaside boulevard, to mark International Human Rights Day in 2006 and 2007. His group was attacked by angry mobs on both occasions.
Diplomats from Sweden, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Britain visited his home with journalists last year to show their unhappiness with Ferrer’s arrest, which they viewed as political persecution obscured by trumped-up criminal charges.
The diplomats were summoned by the Cuban government, who accused them of threatening EU-Cuba dialogue that had been renewed after the EU lifted diplomatic sanctions in 2008 to end a five-year rift over Cuba’s political prisoners.
Ferrer’s wife, Yusnaimy Jorge, emerged from the trial, crying but pleased with the ruling.
“In the trial they didn’t mention the political issue,” she said. “The just thing was done and they freed him.”
Ferrer’s case is part of a slight relaxation in the government’s treatment of dissidents, who are viewed by authorities as mercenaries working for the United States and other enemies to undermine the Communist-led government.
Earlier this month, Cuba released an ailing political prisoner and moved 12 others to jails closer to their families following talks with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The Catholic Church said it hopes more will be freed in coming days following a visit by Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti that ended on Sunday.
At Ortega’s urging, the government also backed off of a heavy-handed effort to stop protest marches by the dissident group “Ladies in White” staged weekly since their husbands and sons were jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissidents.
In May, a 20-month sentence against dissident Dania Garcia for mistreating her daughter was thrown out after she was behind bars for two weeks. She called her release a win for opponents of Cuba’s government.
The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights says Cuba still has about 190 political prisoners behind bars.
The recent government moves, said commission spokesman Elizardo Sanchez, are an attempt by Cuban leaders to put “a kind of friendly face on the plight of a group of prisoners of conscience.”
Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Frank