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Cuba's Ladies in White call dissident death "murder"

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 23 Jan 2012 15:14 GMT
Author: Jeff Franks
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HAVANA, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The opposition group "Ladies in White" accused the Cuban government on Sunday of "murdering" by neglect a 31-year-old dissident who died last week following a hunger strike in prison. 

   Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said Wilman Villar  Mendoza died because the government did not respect his rights  and that he was only the latest such victim to die for the same  reason. 

   "Today is a day that the people of Cuba, like Ladies in  White and the internal opposition, are in mourning. We are in mourning because we have lost a young man who gave his life for the freedom of the Cuban people," said Soler, speaking in a  tree-shaded Havana park after the group's weekly silent march demanding the release of political prisoners. 

   "He was a dignified man, a man who really should not have    died, but ... the government killed him. It's one more murder in the Cuban government's account," she said to about 40 other white-clad women. 

   The Ladies in White are Cuba's leading dissident group and  have been marching every Sunday in Havana since a 2003    government crackdown on political opponents. 

   "Why do we say murdered? This young man was only asking that  they review his case, which the government did not listen to,"  she said. 

   Villar died on Thursday in a hospital in the eastern city of  Santiago de Cuba after contracting pneumonia during a hunger  strike in prison, dissidents said. 

   He launched his hunger strike shortly after he was arrested  in November, put on trial and sentenced to four years in prison  for crimes including disobedience, resistance and crimes against  the state. 

   He was put in solitary confinement under difficult conditions which, combined with his lack of nourishment caused the health problems that led to his death, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said. 

   Government opponents said Villar had joined an opposition  group called the Cuban Patriotic Union last summer and been an  active dissident ever since. 

   But the Cuban government said Villar was not a dissident and

 had received the best medical care possible in an attempt to   save his life. 

   It said his legal problems arose not from political   activities, but from a violent family dispute. 

   Soler equated Villar's death to that of another imprisoned dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February 2010    after an 85-day hunger strike. 

   "They let him die, the same as Orlando Zapata Tamayo.     Orlando Zapata was another victim of the government, which let  him die only because they didn't respect his rights," she said. 

   Cuba drew international condemnation for Zapata's death and  has been criticized for Villar's demise by several countries    including the United States. 

   "Villar's senseless death highlights the ongoing     repression of the Cuban people and the plight faced by brave  individuals standing up for the universal rights of all Cubans,"  a White House spokesman said on Friday. 

   Cuba issued a sharply worded response saying, "It is the United States government that practices torture and extra-judicial executions in the countries that it attacks and  

 that which uses police brutality against its own people." 

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