Amnesty International calls on Cuba to stop disrupting marches by dead hunger striker's mother

HAVANA (AP) — Amnesty International is calling on Cuban authorities to stop disrupting weekly marches by the mother of a political prisoner who died following a lengthy hunger strike.

The London-based human rights group said in a statement Tuesday that officials should "end the harassment" of Reina Luisa Tamayo, who takes to the streets each Sunday with a small group of relatives to honor her son Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died Feb. 23 after refusing food and water for months.

Tamayo told Amnesty that pro-government mobs surrounded her house in the eastern Cuba city of Banes on Sunday and prevented her, her family and friends from marching and attending Roman Catholic Mass. She said Cuban security forces kept other women who planned to march from leaving their homes.

"Reina Luisa Tamayo is simply paying tribute to her son who died in tragic circumstances, and that must be respected by the authorities," said Kerrie Howard, Amnesty International's Americas deputy director.

Zapata Tamayo, jailed since 2003 on charges that included disrespecting authority, became the first Cuban opposition figure in nearly 40 years to die after a hunger strike — an incident decried by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European leaders.

The communist government has not commented on the case of his mother, but it tolerates no organized political opposition. Authorities dismiss dissidents and community organizers as "mercenaries" paid by the U.S. government and anti-Castro groups in Florida to destabilize the island's political system. They describe Amnesty and other international rights organizations as tools of Washington.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent, Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said by phone Tuesday that Tamayo "has really begun facing sustained harassment."

Tamayo also told Amnesty that on Aug. 8, a mob blocked her path and beat relatives and friends who were marching — while police nearby failed to act. She said six loudspeakers had been installed near her house, used to shout insults against her and the Ladies in White, a Havana support group for wives and mother of political prisoners.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American and Florida Republican, also denounced the treatment of Tamayo, saying that "preventing this infirmed 62-year-old grieving mother from attending Sunday church is yet another example of the ruthlessness of the Castro regime."

The government claims such "acts of repudiation" are spontaneous expressions of public anger, but coordination between state agents and counter-protesters is open and participants are often bused in.

Under a landmark deal between the government and the Catholic Church on July 7, authorities agreed to free 52 political prisoners, and so far 23 have been released into exile in Spain with their families.

On Monday, however, police detained and released dissident blogger Luis Felipe Rojas near his home in San German in the eastern province of Holguin. Amnesty International expressed concern about that case and Sanchez said Rojas was arrested with "four or five" others for reasons unknown — but that all were subsequently freed.

Rojas said via Twitter that he was forced to sit in the lobby of a police station for 12 hours. He said the reason was his criticism of Cuba's government on the internet. Though access to his site is not blocked on the island, his family told Amnesty that he has been detained previously under similar circumstances.