Latin America & Caribbean

Cuban hunger striker Wilmar Villar dies in jail

Cuban President Raul Castro (R) gestures at Jose Marti airport, on January 12, 2012
Cuban President Raul Castro described a previous hunger striker as a "common criminal"

A jailed Cuban political dissident has died, 50 days after beginning a hunger strike, a human rights group says.

Wilmar Villar was protesting against a four-year prison sentence for taking part in a demonstration.

The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission said the 31-year-old had died in hospital after being critically ill for several days.

The commission said the government bore full responsibility for what it called Mr Villar's "inevitable" death.

Spokesman and leading dissident Elizardo Sanchez said Mr Villar was taken to hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba on 14 January.

He told Reuters news agency that Mr Villar had been an active dissident since joining an opposition group in eastern Cuba called the Cuban Patriotic Union.

He was arrested in November and sentenced to four years for crimes including disrespecting authority and resisting arrest.

The Cuban government came under pressure after another hunger-striking dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in February 2010.

Later that year the authorities released more than 50 prisoners after talks with the Catholic Church and Spanish officials.

Responding to the news of Mr Villar's death on Twitter, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote that Cuba's official voices would describe him as a "common criminal," as they had with Mr Zapata after his death.

The Cuban government has yet to comment on Mr Villar's death, but pro-government blogger Yohandry described him as a "proven criminal" and a "proven danger to society".

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