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Appeal for incarcerated scholars, political dissidents and members of human

15 April 2003

Letter to H.E. Fidel Castro, President of the Republic of Cuba, 15 April, 2003

Your Excellency,

I have fond memories of my visit to your beautiful country in October 1999.
I particularly remember meeting with Your Excellency after dinner on my final
evening. This gave me and other church leaders a unique opportunity to share
insights on a variety of subjects, ranging from theology and spirituality to history.

Since returning to Geneva, colleagues have kept me informed about developments
in Cuba.

Today, I am writing to express my concern at the recent developments in Cuba.
We are aware that Cuba has recently experienced an increase in external pressures
and interference in its sovereignty and independence, especially by the Government
of the United States of America. This may have forced the hands of the authorities
to stave off possible subversion. However, they should exercise restraint and
not allow events to jeopardize the integrity of the Cuban Revolution.

The World Council of Churches is shocked and dismayed at the news of the
recent crackdown by the Cuban authorities on members of human rights groups,
scholars, and political dissidents. According to reports received, over seventy people
have been incarcerated for exercising their right to freedom of expression
through organizations such as the Varela Project.

The World Council of Churches regrets that some of those detained, though
charged with the serious offence of "provocative and subversive activities", were
tried by the Court under summary procedures. The accused received heavy sentences
ranging from six to twenty-eight years. In view of the summary nature of
the proceedings, the gravity of the charges, and the severity of the punishment
awarded, the World Council of Churches is of the considered view that there has
been a miscarriage of justice. The accused should have been tried according to
due process of law rather than under Articles 479 and 480 of the Criminal Procedure
Code which, as we understand them, are applicable in exceptional cases only and
should not have been applied to the case in hand. Such action would have ensured
a fair trial for the accused.

The World Council of Churches is concerned that the heavy sentences handed
down to the accused by the Court will have a negative impact on Cuban society
as well as on the families of the accused. They will be subjected to long periods
of separation that will have an adverse effect on the lives of the children.

We therefore urge the Cuban authorities to reconsider the orders of detention
and the sentences awarded to those convicted as a result of the 18th March crackdown.

They should be released immediately. Such action by the authorities will
serve to increase the credibility of Your Excellency's Government.

I assure you of the constant prayers of the World Council of Churches and its
many members who share our concern for the peace and prosperity of the Cuban
people. May God bless and guide you in the path of compassion and magnanimity.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser
General Secretary