Activist: Cuban reporter who supports Ladies in White jailed for 'mistreating' daughter

HAVANA (AP) — An independent Cuban journalist with ties to the Ladies in White dissident group has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for allegedly mistreating her adult daughter, a veteran island human rights leader said Thursday.

Dania Virgen Garcia was arrested on April 20 and sentenced three days later after her daughter — apparently angry at her mother's criticism of the communist government — filed a complaint, Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said, citing information from friends of the detained journalist.

In a telephone interview, Sanchez said that he did not know the exact charges against her or the nature of the alleged mistreatment.

Sanchez said he suspects — but cannot prove — Garcia was targeted since she is a supporter of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, whose regular Sunday march has been blocked by Cuban government supporters for the past three weeks in a row. He said he would need several days to obtain the necessary documents clarifying her arrest.

Garcia, who filed Internet dispatches in defiance of government controls on all Cuban media, is being held at a high-security women's prison in Havana and is unreachable, Sanchez said.

There was no answer Thursday at the home of Laura Pollan, a founding member of the Ladies in White. Cuba's government had no immediate comment.

Sanchez said Garcia is a supporter but not a member of the group, comprising wives and mothers of 75 community organizers, independent journalists and political opposition activists who were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in March 2003. Fifty-three remain behind bars.

The government claims that those imprisoned have conspired with Washington to topple the island's communist system, charges that both they and U.S. officials deny.

Nearly every Sunday for seven years, the Damas have dressed in white and marched down a sidewalk along swank Fifth Avenue in Havana, usually without incident. But in March, the group held a week of demonstrations in other parts of the city, which provoked protests by government supporters and drew the attention of international news media.

Footage of the protesters being roughly bundled onto a bus at one of the events led to sympathy demonstrations in Miami and Los Angeles.

On April 11, the women were blocked from staging their traditional Fifth Avenue demonstration as well: State security agents told them they were not allowed to protest because they never obtained permission to do so, while a mob shouting pro-government slogans helped stop them.

During the past two Sundays, the women refrained from marching but stood near their usual route, withstanding hours of shouted insults and obscenities from counter-demonstrators who had been carefully organized and dispatched in shifts by the government.

Their weekly march had been one of the few regular expressions of dissent the government tolerated. Cuban leaders do not recognize Sanchez's human rights commission, but largely allow it to operate.

The commission says Cuba holds about 200 political prisoners, not counting Garcia.

The government says it holds none and protects human rights better than most countries by providing its citizens with free health care and education as well as subsidized housing, utilities, transportation and basic food.