Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who faces up to seven years in prison, admitted the flags were hung upside down at his home, but said patriots throughout Cuban history have used such action as a sign of civil disobedience.
"In no moment was there an intention to dishonor national symbols," Biscet told a three-member tribunal. "I respect those symbols. I am Cuban."
Biscet testified that he became an activist after protesting late-term abortions at a government hospital where he worked. He eventually was fired.
Although the flag protest had nothing to do with Biscet's anti-abortion stance, his opposition to the communist government's public health policies allowing abortion on demand has been a constant theme in interviews and in demonstrations calling for freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners.
He and his supporters have enraged the government on several occasions with protest signs reading "Child Murderers," a declaration largely misunderstood in a country where abortion is extremely common and carries virtually no social stigma.
The government allowed a small group of reporters to attend the trial, as well as representatives of the Spanish and Canadian embassies and the U.S. Interests Section, which functions as the American mission.
At least nine anti-government activists were detained on the eve of the trial in an apparent move to prevent anti-government protests outside the courthouse, said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Such detentions are commonly used to prevent public demonstrations.
Biscet was brought into the courtroom by two men in olive green uniforms on Friday morning, shortly after his government-appointed defender and his parents, brother and wife arrived.
"I feel confident," Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon, said before entering the courtroom. "Everything will turn out all right."
Prosecutor Eugenio Martinez asked for a seven-year sentence for Biscet on the charges of dishonoring patriotic symbols, public disorder and instigating delinquency. Biscet's lawyer asked that the charges be dismissed and the defendant set free.
In the Cuban court system, sentences are issued within a week or two of a trial.
Biscet, who also led a 40-day protest last year to demand the release of political prisoners, was arrested Nov. 3 after the protest at his home. It apparently was the upside-down flags that most enraged Cuban authorities, to whom the national flag and other patriotic symbols are sacred.
Biscet went on trial the same day the U.S. State Department released its annual report on human rights around the world. The report accused Cuba of suppressing opposition and criticism, saying "Cuban authorities routinely harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations."
Cuba says it holds no prisoners of conscience, only common criminals, and characterizes people like Biscet as "counterrevolutionaries."
Fidel Castro's government was criticized last year when the trial of four well-known opposition leaders charged with sedition was closed to the press and the public.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press