HAVANA, Aug 25 (Reuters) - A prominent jailed Cuban dissident accused of "enemy propaganda" and "spreading false information" will go on trial in Havana on Friday, opposition groups said this week.
The trial of Reinaldo Alfaro Garcia, whom U.K.-based rights group Amnesty International has adopted on its list of ``prisoners of conscience,'' would be the first high-profile trial of a Cuban dissident for months.
Alfaro was jailed on May 8, 1997, after denouncing alleged ill-treatment in Cuban prisons, according to dissident sources in Havana. He is a leader of the small Association for the Struggle against Injustice (ALFIN) and executive member of the better-known Democratic Solidarity Party (PSD).
Both are illegal movements in communist-run Cuba, a one-party state.
The opposition sources said Alfaro would be tried at Havana's Provincial Popular Court and faced a maximum sentence of 12 years. There was no official confirmation of the trial date.
PSD leader Hector Palacios said on Tuesday he believed Alfaro would be convicted and then possibly at a later date be allowed to negotiate his exile from Cuba.
``I think it would more prudent for him to leave the country to take care of his health,'' said Palacios, adding that Alfaro suffered from high blood pressure and vertebral problems. ``What would he do in a Cuban jail?''
Cuba has in the past allowed numerous jailed and convicted dissidents to take exile abroad.
News of Alfaro's trial comes at a time when dissidents in Cuba say ``direct'' repression against them has eased, with fewer arrests or trials than last year and greater state tolerance of internal opposition. They trace the thaw back to Pope John Paul's visit in January, during which the pontiff called for greater political and religious freedom on the island.
Scores of small, illegal opposition groups exist in Cuba, but have no access to the media, cannot hold public meetings and do not threaten the Communist Party's political dominance.
Havana denies it represses freedom of speech, or holds any prisoners of conscience, saying those government opponents in jail are there on legitimate charges including ``counter- revolutionary'' activities, sometimes violent.
Cuba's four best-known dissident prisoners -- Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne and Rene Gomez Manzano -- remain in jail without trial since July 1997.
According to moderate dissident groups in Cuba, the number of confirmed political prisoners held in Cuban jails has dropped to 381 now from more than 1,000 two years ago.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.