Cuban prisoners 'win concessions' after Church talks

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Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas
Image caption,
Mr Farinas has been fasting since February

Cuba has relaxed the prison regime for political detainees after talks with Roman Catholic leaders, a prominent dissident has said.

Prisoners held far from their homes will be moved closer and sick inmates will be admitted to hospital, said Guillermo Farinas, who is on hunger strike over the issue.

He began his fast after a prisoner died on hunger strike in Febuary.

Havana did not comment on the news, but a Church source confirmed it.

The BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana, says the issue of political prisoners was raised at a four-hour meeting on Wednesday between the communist state's President, Raul Castro, and Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio Garcia.

Human rights groups estimate there are 200 opponents of the government serving prison sentences with almost 30 of them believed to be in a poor state of health.

The Cuban authorities deny that they are political prisoners, calling them mercenaries paid by the US to undermine the system.

Hunger strike

Mr Farinas, a journalist, told foreign media by phone that he had been informed of the two developments by a Church official who visited his sick bed with a message from Cardinal Ortega.

"These are first the transfer of all the prisoners to their respective provinces of residence, and the transfer also of all sick prisoners to hospitals," he told Reuters news agency.

A second meeting would be held next week toward "resolving the situation of the prisoners", he added.

Soon after meeting President Castro, Cardinal Ortega told reporters the Church was interested in "some kind of relief in the situation of the prisoners, which could include the freeing of some of them".

Mr Farinas has been on hunger strike for three months and said on Sunday he would continue his action until at least 10 political prisoners had been freed and he had received a timeline from the Church for others to be released.

His protest was sparked by the death of Orlando Zapata who died on 23 February after 85 days on hunger strike.