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Cuba’s Ladies in White arrested in government crackdown

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Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

Up to 70 women who are part of Cuba’s Ladies in White movement have been arrested as part of a crackdown ahead of the Pope’s visit next week.

Some of the women were arrested as they staged their weekly silent protest march wearing their customary white clothes in the capital, Havana, on Saturday.

Police reportedly arrested 36 of the Damas de Blanco on Sunday morning , including the group’s leader Bertha Soler as they made their way to attend Mass. Another 22 were arrested after attending the same service.

They were taken away in an umarked bus and although some had been released by Sunday evening, it is not known where the other women are being held.

Elizardo Sanchez, of the banned Cuban Human Rights Commission, condemned the arrests, which appear to be part of a wider crackdown of political dissidents ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit that begins on 26 March.

“This weekend has been another one full of political repression by the totalitarian government,” said Sanchez, who added that there had been arrests in the provinces.

“The worst part of it is that the victims of the repression have been, basically, women.”

The group, which had been led by Laura Pollan until her death in October last year, was founded by wives and mothers of 75 dissidents who were arrested in the 2003 Black Spring.

All of them received lengthy sentences but have since been freed as part of a 2010 agreement brokered by the Roman Catholic Church that saw the release of 130 political prisoners.

The Damas de Blanco have continued their silent vigils to continue to highlight the cause of political prisoners and in 2005 won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament.

The arrests follow the occupation of a Havana Catholic Church by 13 dissidents who were demanding an audience with Pope Benedict to discuss their complaints against the government.

Some of the government opponents have called for the Pope to stay away but others believe his visit is an opportunity for the church to push for more political freedoms.

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