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Cuba seeks 20 years in prison for American accused of spying

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-02-05

In a statement released through the Communist Party newspaper Granma Friday, the Cuban government has requested a 20-year prison term for US contractor Alan Gross who was arrested in 2009 for "crimes against state security."

AFP - Cuba has requested a 20-year prison term for US contractor Alan Gross who was arrested in 2009 on spying charges, a government statement said, as Washington slammed the move as an "injustice."

In a statement released through the Communist Party newspaper Granma Friday, Cuba said Gross was being charged with violating Cuba's "independence and territorial integrity," and said a trial date will be fixed "shortly" in a case that has created a new diplomatic tension between Washington and Havana.

The charges against Gross, 61, are in the category of "crimes against state security" and suggest that Havana is taking a hard line in the high-profile case.

"The US government has been informed of this and duly notified through the diplomatic channels that its consular representatives, Mr Gross's relatives and his family lawyers will be allowed to attend the trial," the statement said.

Washington swiftly criticized the action.

President Barack Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said Gross "has been unjustly detained and deprived of his liberty and freedom for the last 14 months."

But instead of releasing him, the White House said the decision Friday "compounds the injustice suffered by a man helping to increase the free flow of information, to, from, and among the Cuban people."

US State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said: "We deplore the Cuban government's announcement... (Gross) has been held without charges for more than a year, contrary to all international human rights obligations and commitments regarding justice and due process.

"He should be home with his family now," he said.

The contractor's wife Judy Gross told AFP that she would spend the weekend processing the possible implications for her husband and their family.

"I'm trying to digest the news myself," she said, declining further comment.

US authorities have argued that Gross worked for a non-government organization contracted by the State Department to supply computer and communications material to civil society groups on the island, and that he should be freed.

Washington officials said that Gross, an international development worker, visited Cuba to help members of the Jewish community in Havana link up with other Jewish communities throughout the world.

In December, a State Department spokesman said Gross had "languished in a Cuban jail for a full year" with no explanation or charges filed against him and that the actions "violate international standards of due process and judicial procedure."

On Friday the company that contracted Gross to work in Cuba, Development Alternatives Inc., described the threat of a 20-year prison sentence as an "outrage."

The company said in a statement released to AFP that it called on "principled leaders within our government and in the international community to stand up for Alan and step up their efforts to bring him home to his family."

The United States and Cuba have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1961, though Washington is represented by a US interest section in Havana.

On January 13, Cuba allowed a senior US diplomat to visit Gross, whose incarceration had become an obstacle in efforts to work towards normalized relations.

Arturo Valenzuela, the top US State Department official for Latin America, said recently that Washington had made it "very clear" to Havana that it will be difficult to reach any major agreements as long as Cuba is holding Gross.

Cuba has been pressing meanwhile for the release of five of its nationals held in prison since 1998 in the United States on espionage charges.

Date created : 2011-02-05