Rights groups denounce Cuba's arrest of independent journalist, activists denounce harassment

HAVANA (Reuters) - International rights groups this week denounced Communist-run Cuba’s arrest of dissident journalist Roberto Quinones after what they say was a sham trial, while local opposition activists complained of worsening harassment.

Quinones, who writes for the Florida-based website CubaNet, was sentenced to one year of “correctional labor” a month ago on charges of resisting and disobeying authorities during an incident in April.

In an eyewitness piece for CubaNet, Quinones, 61, wrote that police in the eastern Cuban region of Guantanamo had stopped him without legitimate reason while he was covering a trial in April, detained him for five days and beat him.

Cuban authorities charged him with resisting arrest and imposed a fine that he refused to pay.

He was taken to jail on Wednesday.

Cuban authorities do not comment on police activity such as the detention of dissidents, and dismisses them as a tiny minority of provocateurs financed by the United States to subvert the government.

CubaNet receives U.S. government financing as part of a broader American push to open up Communist-run Cuba.

The Trump administration has called for Quinones’ release on several occasions, most recently last month

“He is a prisoner of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released,” Amnesty International, a human rights group, said on Thursday, announcing a campaign for his release.

Amnesty International last month named five other prisoners of conscience in Cuba, saying their detention underscored how the presidential handover last year from Raul Castro had not changed the Communist-run country’s repressive tactics.

“The disproportionate and arbitrary use of the criminal law, and campaigns of state-sponsored discrimination against those who dare to speak out ... has created a profound climate of fear in Cuba,” the group said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this week included Cuba on its list of 10 most censored countries worldwide.

“This injustice is a new low, even for a country with as longstanding a tradition of censorship as Cuba,” Natalie Southwick, CPJ Central and South American Program Coordinator, wrote on Twitter.

Many Cuban activists and independent journalists are complaining of growing harassment.

They say that is a sign the government is nervous because the launch of mobile internet last December has given them more of a public platform and ability to mobilize at a time of heightened political and economic tension.

“I cannot chew because of the blows three thugs of the tyranny gave me yesterday,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, the head of Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), wrote on Thursday.

He and other UNPACU activists were detained last weekend for attempting to stage a nonviolent protest against the government. Ferrer was released after three days.

“We are in the presence of a new wave of repression,” Ferrer said.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; editing by Jonathan Oatis