The Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo has died after 85 days on hunger strike. The 42-year-old had been transferred from prison to a hospital in Havana when his health deteriorated.
It is the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban activist has starved himself to death in protest against government abuses. Zapata was jailed in 2003 in a crackdown on opposition groups. While in prison his sentence was boosted to 25 years.
At a symbolic wake, staged by the wives of other political prisoners, a leading dissident claimed the authorities beat Zapata while he was on strike.
“He wasn’t a murderer,” Laura Pollan said. “He wasn’t a thief. He wasn’t a rapist. He was simply a young man who wanted a better future for Cuba, a fighter for human rights. He was one of the men who wish for something else for Cuba. However, the government didn’t understand that.”
Amnesty International has declared Zapata a prisoner of conscience.
The Cuban Human Rights Commission says there are nearly 200 other political prisoners on the island.
The Cuban authorities view them as mercenaries working for the US to undermine the government.
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