January 1, 2015 / 10:14 PM / 4 years ago

Cuban police detain protesters outside prison, dissidents say

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban police detained up to a dozen dissidents who had gone to a Havana prison to demand that fellow opponents of the government be released, dissidents said on Thursday.

The detentions follow a series of others since Tuesday in a crackdown against activists who have attempted to test the communist government’s tolerance for free speech and assembly in the wake of Cuba’s thaw in relations with the United States.

Cuban officials do not comment on police activity such as the detention of dissidents, and the Cuban government dismisses the opponents as paid advocates of the U.S. government. The dissidents have limited public support inside Cuba.

About a dozen protesters gathered outside the Vivac prison on the outskirts of Havana, a Reuters photographer witnessed. They were demanding the release of an estimated 10 dissidents who have been detained since Tuesday, although the whereabouts of those detainees was unknown.

The detentions at the prison started about 15 minutes after Reuters had left the scene.

“It looks like they are going to start arresting people. Now they are arresting people now,” dissident Antonio Rodiles told Reuters before his phone cut off.

Performance artist Tania Bruguera was among those taken away, Rodiles said. Her phone stopped accepting calls as well.

Bruguera attempted to stage an open-microphone protest outside Cuban government headquarters at Revolution Square on Tuesday, but the event was thwarted when police picked up Bruguera and other suspected activists ahead of time.

Some 50 people were detained, 10 of whom remained in police custody as of Thursday, according to the dissident Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Reuters could not verify those numbers given the lack of official disclosure.

“If they don’t release them (the remaining detainees), I am going to call another event at the Square,” Bruguera said earlier in the day.

The detentions are typical of how Cuba breaks up opposition protests but have taken on greater significance they occurred just two weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro said on Dec. 17 they would restore diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Matthew Lewis

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