Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba frees paraplegic dissident Ariel Sigler

Map of Cuba
Image caption Mr Sigler travelled from a hospital in Havana to Pedro Betancourt

The Cuban government has freed a jailed dissident and moved six others to jails closer to their homes.

Senior Catholic clergymen had urged Cuban president Raul Castro to release Ariel Sigler, 47, on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Sigler became paraplegic in jail and his family had serious concerns for his health.

He was arrested in 2003 as part of a government sweep on dissidents, and found guilty of treason.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says Mr Sigler's release is the latest in a series of minor concessions following talks between Cuban officials and Catholic church leaders.

The move comes just days before the Vatican's Foreign Minister, Dominique Mamberti, is due to travel to Havana.

Our correspondent says there are still about 180 political prisoners in Cuba, and almost 30 of them are said to suffer serious health problems.

Arriving in his home town of Pedro Betancourt, Mr Sigler told reporters he felt a mix of happiness and sadness.

"I'm sad because I can't share this moment with my mother, who died five months ago and because more than half of our companions are still in prison," he said.

His arrest in 2003, along with that of 74 other dissidents, became known among opposition groups as "black spring".

The six prisoners being transferred were among those arrested in 2003. One of them is Hector Maceda, whose wife Laura Pollan leads the pressure group Ladies in White.

The group has been holding protest marches to demand the dissidents' release.

Ms Pollan said the Ladies in White were pleased about the transfers but pointed out that their ultimate goal, the release of their relatives, had not yet been achieved.

The transfer is the second this month, bringing the number of those moved to 12.

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