By Andrew Cawthorne
HAVANA, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A Cuban prosecutor is seeking five and six-year jail sentences for the island's four best-known dissident prisoners on a charge of ``sedition,'' their relatives and legal representatives said on Thursday.
The four, whose case has been a focus of international pressure on the Communist government of Fidel Castro, had been jailed without charges for the last 14 months.
But their lawyers said they received on Wednesday a formal notification of the sedition charge against them within a general category in Cuba's penal code titled ``other acts against the security of the state.''
The four -- Vladimiro Roca, Martha Beatriz Roque, Felix Bonne and Rene Gomez Manzano -- were detained on July 16, 1997, after issuing a document criticising Cuba's one-party political system and calling for democratic changes.
As well as publishing their document, La Patria es de Todos (The Fatherland Belongs to All), they were also involved in an abortive attempt in 1996 to create an umbrella group of illegal dissident organisations on the island.
Roca's wife, Magaly Roca, said she hoped the charging of her husband and the other three would lead to a quick trial and resolution of their case.
``What Vladimiro hopes for, and I support him in this, is a free and transparent trial so that justice can be done and they are all absolved as they deserve,'' she said.
Roca's lawyer, Amelia Rodriguez, said the four's legal representatives had 20 days to make formal replies to the written charges. She expected a trial within two months. ``In my opinion, there is no crime here,'' she added.
The family and legal sources said the prosecutor was seeking a six-year sentence for Roca, and five years for the other three. He had not specified a possible trial date.
There was no official confirmation of the charges from government or judicial sources. Havana has previously referred to the four simply as ``counter-revolutionaries'' who were in jail on suspicion of illegal activity.
As foreign governments have been boosting ties with Havana since Pope John Paul's landmark visit in January, official visitors have also been raising the case of the four as a symbol of unresolved human rights issues in Cuba.
Appeals for their freedom have come from a range of foreign governments and groups including the Vatican, European Union nations, the United States, Canada, Amnesty International and Americas Watch.
The four were on the pope's amnesty list handed to Castro's government at the time of his visit. That move brought scores of releases of dissidents and others.
The government, which is traditionally reticent about its prisoners, has in recent months consistently ducked public questions on the four dissidents.
Diplomats in Havana said the charging of the four was a positive step because it at least ended uncertainty over their detention without charges and began a formal legal process.
According to moderate dissident groups here, the number of confirmed political prisoners held in Cuban jails has dropped to less than 400 now from more than 1,000 two years ago.
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.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.