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Cuban dissident wins Sakharov human rights prize

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-21

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas (pictured) was awarded the Sakharov human rights prize Thursday by the European parliament. Farinas, a journalist and psychologist, has used hunger strikes to call attention to the situation in his homeland.

AFP - Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, winner of Europe's Sakharov prize Thursday, is a longtime dissident who has used hunger strikes as a blunt weapon to seek greater freedoms in the Communist island.
Over the years, repeated fasts have taken a heavy physical toll on the 48-year-old journalist and psychologist, the length of his hunger strikes endangering his life.
But he believes these frequent stints of personal sacrifice have helped steel his resolve against the hardline Marxist regime.
Farinas held a 135-day hunger strike earlier this year that left him near death but compelled the Cuban government to agree to release 52 political prisoners.
Another fast between 1995 and 1997 brought attention to his allegations of corruption at the hospital where he worked.
He also carried out a six-month hunger strike in 2006, but that time he failed to force the government to allow freer access to the Internet.
During his frailest moments earlier this year, he contracted a staph infection and battled septic shock, which could have killed him.
He told Spain's El Pais newspaper that he viewed his shattered body as an instrument "to achiever greater freedom in Cuba."
"There are moments in history when one is called upon to be a martyr," he told the daily.
Farinas went on hunger strike on February 24, just a day after another prominent dissident, Orlando Zapata, 42, died after having refused to eat for 85 days.
The Cuban government, through its mouthpiece the Communist party newspaper Granma, at times accused Farinas of being an agent of US and European interests.
Nevertheless, it ultimately gave in to his demands, agreeing to free twice as many as the 26 political prisoners sought by Farinas, who was protesting the treatment of jailed dissidents in need of medical attention.
The 52 political prisoners were part of a larger group of 75 dissidents imprisoned during a 2003 crackdown; the other 23 had been freed over the years for health reasons.
Most of the released prisoners have relocated to Spain, while some hope to settle eventually in the United States.
Farinas, who heads the banned online Cubanacan Press news agency, is also a member of the outlawed Cuban Democratic Alliance group.
The 22nd Sakharov Prize, named after late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, comes with a cash award of 50,000 euros (70,000 dollars).
Past recipients include Chinese dissident Hu Jia, South African icon Nelson Mandela, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.
The prize has been awarded by the European parliament annually since 1988 to individuals or organizations who "have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy."
Farinas is the third Cuban to receive the prize, after Oswaldo Paya in 2002 and the "Ladies in White" group of women whose husbands are jailed in Cuba, which received the award in 2005.

Date created : 2010-10-21


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