Human rights in Cuba deteriorate, warns Amnesty

image captionBerta Soler of the Ladies in White group was among 60 activists temporarily detained at the weekend

Cuba has intensified its harassment of dissidents and human rights activists, according to Amnesty International.

The campaign group's reportsays the number of people intimidated and taken into custody has risen sharply over the past two years.

It says there were 2,784 cases of human rights abuses between January and September 2011, which is 710 more than in the whole of the previous year.

The criticism comes as Pope Benedict XVI's prepares to visit Cuba next week.

The Cuban government has not responded, but the Communist Party newspaper Granma claimed on Wednesday that dissidents are trying to stir up trouble to put pressure on the Pope to comment.

'Prisoners of conscience'

Amnesty has also put four Cubans on its list of "prisoners of conscience", defined as people who have been jailed because of their "political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs".

The four include Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and his brother Marcos Maiquel Lima Cruz, who founded online newspaper Cardogna.

Their paper was closed down in 2009 and they were convicted of "insulting symbols of their homeland".

Also highlighted are the cases of activists Yasmin Conyedo Riveron and her husband Yusmani Rafael Alvarez Esmori, detained for using "violence or intimidation" against a state official.

Only last year Cuba released the last of 75 activists it had jailed in 2003, but Amnesty said government critics, journalists and bloggers are being repeatedly held for short periods and denied access to lawyers and their families.

At the weekend more than 60 members of the Ladies in White pressure group were detained temporarily when they tried to go to mass at a Catholic church, a regular fixture for the organisation.

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