Cuba 'considers releasing more political prisoners'

The Ladies in White kneel in prayer during their weekly protest. Photo: July  2010 The Ladies in White have been fighting to secure the release of all dissidents

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The Cuban government is considering another large-scale round of political prisoner releases.

In July, President Raul Castro agreed to free 52 prisoners arrested in a crackdown on opposition groups in 2003.

The deal was brokered by the Roman Catholic Church and Spanish government.

Human rights and dissident groups in Cuba have now been asked by the Catholic Church to help identify all remaining political prisoners on the island.

This has raised speculation that President Castro is considering freeing all the prisoners once a consensus can be reached on who they are.

According to Berta Soler of the prisoner support group The Ladies in White, their list of additional prisoners will be handed over to the Church, the Spanish embassy and the European Union this week.

Numbers vary from about 40 to 100 people.

The process may already be under way.

'Not prepared'

The head of the Cuban Human Rights Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, says that nine new inmates have been approached by security officials asking if they would be prepared to leave the country with their families.

The death of a dissident hunger striker in jail earlier this year brought widespread international criticism of Cuba's human rights record.

The original 52 prisoners - whom the government agreed to release in July - were all arrested following the crackdown on non-violent opposition groups.

Thirty-six of them are already in Spain with their families. A further four are expected to join them shortly.

But some of the remaining prisoners have said that they are not prepared to go into exile.

They are likely to be the last to be released and on parole rather than have the sentence lifted or commuted.

So far there has been no official word from the Cuban government about additional prisoner releases.

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