Blind Christian Human Rights Activist has been Beaten and Imprisoned in Cuba

Monday, April 15, 2002

A blind Christian human rights activist has been beaten and imprisoned in Cuba following a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights workers.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, President of both the Cuban Human Rights Foundation and the Brotherhood of the Independent Blind People of Cuba, was arrested along with several other human rights activists on March 5 in Ciego de Avila.

He was severely beaten by government security agents and suffered a blow to the head, which required four stitches. Gonzalez and a number of other human rights activists had gathered at a local hospital in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of a journalist who had been admitted there after being attacked by Cuban police.

The group was immediately surrounded by the rapid response unit of the local security forces, who beat them before taking them into custody. The group has been on hunger strike since their arrest.

On March 10, security forces raided the Ignacio Agramonte Independent Evangelical Library, set up in Ciego de Avila by Gonzalez. They confiscated a number of books including materials written in Braille. Gonzalez was also attacked and beaten by police on Christmas Day, 2001, at the inauguration of the library.

According to Gonzalez's wife, Maritza, he is being charged with public disorder and is currently being held in a cell with a violent criminal - a common form of punishment in Cuba. She was able to visit him on March 12 and said his cellmate seemed extremely aggressive. She also said that Gonzalez had lost a great deal of weight due to his hunger strike.

CSW met with the 27-year-old Gonzalez, who is also a lawyer and an active member of the Baptist Church, last February in Havana. At the time Gonzalez spoke of his hope for the future of human rights and democracy in Cuba.

There has been a general crackdown on all human rights activists since a large number of Cubans sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy in Havana in late February.

CSW is calling for the immediate release of Gonzalez and his fellow human rights activists as well as the return of all the materials taken from the library.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said, "Juan Carlos has paid a high price for having the courage to stand up for the rights of others. His treatment at the hands of the authorities has been brutal and unjust.

"We call upon Fidel Castro to release Juan Carlos immediately and to make full redress for the injuries he has suffered at the hands of the government. This kind of behaviour on the part of the Cuban Government should not be tolerated by the international community."

For more information or a photo of Juan Carlos contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email