press realease from Freedom House.....
NEW YORK, October 27, 2005 -- The European Parliament's decision to award Cuban activists its annual Sakharov Prize is a highly deserved honor, but the European Union must do more to hold the Cuban government accountable for its ongoing human rights abuses, Freedom House said today.
The award, named for renowned Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was given Wednesday to "Cuba's Ladies in White" (Damas de Blanco), a group of women who regularly demonstrate peacefully in Cuba on behalf of relatives jailed over two years ago during a widespread crackdown on Cuban dissidents and independent journalists. Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, and the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders also received the award.
"The Ladies in White are the wives, sisters, and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, and through their dignified and courageous acts of defiance they have awakened the world's conscience to the brutal nature of the Castro regime," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "These women are the standard-bearers of Cuba's growing democracy movement."
Of the 75 Cuban citizens rounded up in March 2003, 61 remain confined to squalid prison conditions, serving sentences averaging 20 years.
Freedom House congratulates the award winners and praises the European Union's efforts to champion human rights defenders, especially those operating within closed and repressive societies.
The European Parliament's decision comes at a significant moment in EU-Cuba relations, as European pressure on the Cuban regime to uphold basic principles of human rights and democratic reforms has wavered over the past year.
"The EU's decision to honor and support the work of Cuba's Ladies in White, while commendable, must be followed by a renewed commitment by European leaders to support the peaceful work of Cuba's democracy advocates and to hold the Cuban government accountable for its continued violations of individual freedoms and the rule of law," said Ms. Windsor.
Every Sunday afternoon since April 2003, the Ladies in White, dressed in all white clothing, have been marching through the streets of Havana and other provincial Cuban cities. The women have often been compared to Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, known around the world for their heroic demonstrations against the disappearance of Argentina's missing sons and daughters from the Dirty Wars of the 1970's and 80's.
The European Parliament's Sakharov Prize has now been awarded twice in the past three years to members of Cuba's democracy movement. In December 2002, Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was awarded the prize in recognition of the Varela Project, a grassroots initiative that to-date has collected over 30,000 signatures in support of a nationwide referendum on Cuba's socialist constitution. More than 40 Varela activists were among the 75 detained in March 2003.
Freedom House has consistently rated Cuba "Not Free" in its annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World, and in Freedom of the Press, its annual survey of global media freedom.