Cuba to release five more political prisoners

Officials from the Cuban Roman Catholic Church today revealed the names of five more political prisoners who will be released into exile in the coming days under a landmark agreement with President Raul Castro’s government.

There was no word, however, on exactly when officials planned to free them or five others whose names were released last week.

The 10 are among a group of 52 inmates who remain in jail following a broad 2003 crackdown on dissent that resulted in lengthy prison terms on treason and other charges.

The government agreed to release all 52 prisoners after a meeting on Wednesday between Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The Church has taken an increasingly public role in relations between the government and the opposition since the death of a jailed dissident hunger striker in February. The meeting was brokered by visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The five men to be freed next are Normando Hernandez, Julio C. Galvez, Omar R. Ruiz, Mijail Barzaga and Ricardo Gonzalez, Church official Orlando Marquez said in a statement.

The Church announced the names of the first five prisoners to be released on Thursday, and said all had accepted asylum in Spain, as did those on the list announced today. Neither the Church nor the Cuban government has said whether agreeing to exile is a requirement of release. Ortega has described exile as an “option.”

A Church official told The Associated Press that it was not clear exactly when any of the men will actually leave jail. The archbishop’s statement said only that the releases would take place “soon.”

Relatives and human rights officials said the prisoners had not yet been given word to clear out their cells.

While the government’s promise to release prisoners has raised hopes on the island, praise from outside has been grudging – particularly from human rights groups and Washington.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton applauded the development on Thursday, but quickly described the releases as “overdue.”

Amnesty International largely skipped the warm words in a response issued the same day, and insisted that all of the island’s prisoners of conscience be sent home immediately.

“We welcome the commitment to release these prisoners but there is no reason why all ... prisoners of conscience held in Cuba should not be released immediately,” Susan Lee, Amnesty’s Americas Programme director, said in a statement. She also criticised any agreement that forces the former prisoners into exile.

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