The defendant, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, was brought into the courtroom this morning by two men in olive-green uniforms. Biscet's government-appointed defender and his parents, brother and wife arrived beforehand.
"I feel confident," Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon, said as she arrived. "Everything will turn out all right."
Authorities were holding at least nine anti-government activists in an apparent move to prevent protests outside the courthouse, said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Such detentions are commonly used in Cuba to prevent public demonstrations.
Sanchez said the eight men and one woman would likely be released after today's hearing ended. The activists were picked up in Havana and the remote eastern cities of Manzanilo and Jiraba.
Biscet is the leader of a human rights group called the Lawton Foundation. He was arrested Nov. 3 after he hung the flag upside down during a protest. That enraged Cuban authorities, for whom the national flag and other patriotic symbols are sacred.
He faces charges of insulting patriotic symbols, public disorder and instigating delinquency.
Two other government opponents, Fermin Scull Zulueta and Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, were to be tried in a separate case in the same courtroom today. They face sentences of up to 4½ years each, said Sanchez, who did not provide specifics on the charges against them.
Unlike in some past trials, in this case authorities were allowing a small group of journalists to observe the proceedings. Fidel Castro's government was criticized last spring when the trial of four well-known opposition leaders charged with sedition was closed to the press and the public. Those four received sentences ranging from 3½ to five years.
Cuba says it holds no true prisoners of conscience, only common criminals.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press