HAVANA – Cuban opposition leader Oscar Elias Biscet has been released from prison after eight years and allowed to return to his home in this capital, where he vowed to continue his non-violent struggle for human rights on the island.
“I’ve never stopped fighting since I took this road. I’ve followed the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King and applied them in prison too,” said Biscet, a physician, president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy and one of the most prominent opponents of Cuba’s Communist system.
Cuba’s Catholic hierarchy had said Thursday that his release was imminent.
After numerous arrests in 1998 and 1999 and a first conviction in 2000, he was detained in late 2002 and given a 25-year sentence in 2003 in the summary trials against the “Group of 75,” as the dissidents arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the spring of that year are known.
All of the members of that group were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
The 49-year-old dissident said he was happy to be reunited with his family and friends at his home in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood, where he plans to recover from his years of imprisonment and then “help a lot of people.”
“The Cuban authorities couldn’t make me mentally ill like they wanted to,” Biscet said, adding that he thanks God for keeping him in good physical and mental health even when he was being subjected to torture and abuse.
Biscet said he intends to remain in Cuba. “I’ve always lived in Cuba and I’m from Cuba. I haven’t done anything bad to anyone. I’ve always given love, a lot of love, and for giving love they came down hard on me, especially the government,” he said.
The dissident, who has led campaigns to oppose abortion and the death penalty, organized a 1999 hunger strike to demand respect for human rights and press for the freedom of Cuban political prisoners.
In 2007, while in prison, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award in the United States – by then-President George W. Bush. Biscet’s son received the honor on his father’s behalf during a ceremony in Washington.
Following Biscet’s release from prison, just three members of the Group of 75 remain behind bars: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares and Felix Navarro.
Spanish-supported talks between President Raul Castro and Cuba’s Catholic hierarchy led last summer to a government pledge that the 52 Group of 75 prisoners who then remained behind bars would be released within four months.
Twelve of the 52 who refused exile to Spain were not freed on schedule, although nine of them have been released from prison in recent months, including Biscet.
Since last October, the prisoner releases have been expanded to include inmates outside of the Group of 75, many of whom are not considered active dissidents by members of the internal opposition.