During his testimony, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet admitted that flags were hung upside down at his home. He said the action was commonly practiced throughout Cuban history as a sign of civil disobedience by patriots protesting government actions.
"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 also told how he became an activist after protesting late-term abortions at a government hospital where he worked as a physician. He was eventually fired.
The protest involving the flags had nothing to do with Biscet's anti-abortion stance. But his opposition to Cuban policies allowing abortion on demand has been a constant theme in interviews with foreign journalists 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" an anti-abortion declaration largely misunderstood in a country where abortion is extremely common and carries virtually no social stigma.
The physician heads 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.
At least nine anti-government activists were being held today 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.
Biscet was brought into the courtroom this morning by two men in olive green uniforms.
"I feel confident," Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon, said before entering the courtroom. "Everything will turn out all right."
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