|File photo of the Cuban dissidents from upper left: Vladimiro Roca, upper right Marta Beatriz Roque, lower left Feliz Bonne, lower right Rene Gomez|
HAVANA (AP) -- Risking international criticism, the government on Monday sentenced one of Cuba's best-known dissidents to five years in prison and set lesser terms for his three co-defendants.
The conviction and sentence for Vladimiro Roca, a former military pilot and son of the late Cuban Communist Party leader Blas Roca, was announced during the Monday midday news.
"It is wrong, it is unjust," said Roca's wife, Magaly de Armas, who learned of her husband's sentence on the government news. "They didn't even call."
"We are going to appeal immediately," she added.
A five-member tribunal tried Roca and three others behind closed doors the first week of March. It set four years each for lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne and 3 1/2 years for economist Marta Beatriz Roque, government television said.
The ruling could hold international repercussions for Cuba, which has work hard to improve its ties with other nations, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. Canada, the Vatican and several European nations have pressured Cuba to free the four dissidents.
Cuba plans to welcome King Juan Carlos II of Spain in the spring and play host to the Ibero-American Summit in the fall -- events that diplomats say could be marred by complaints of human rights abuses.
Communist officials insist there are no political prisoners on this island nation of 11 million people, only those jailed for common crimes. They reject the characterization of the four as prisoners of conscience.
The four were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document that they said did not present solutions to Cuba's severe economic problems.
They were also accused of encouraging Cubans not to vote in that year's elections, holding two news conferences with foreign media, exhorting foreign businessmen not to invest in Cuba and asking Cuban exiles to encourage their kin on the island to undertake acts of civil disobedience.
In a detailed report after the trial, the government said that prosecutor Edelmira Pedriz Yumar "demonstrated in her report the existing ties between the activities undertaken by the defendants and the forms of aggression toward Cuba adopted by United States' policies."
The report accused the four of receiving financial and material support from organizations in the United States and using U.S.-based media, especially those in Miami and the U.S. government's Radio Marti, "to encourage civil disobedience and transgression of current law in Cuba."
The prosecution originally recommended a six-year sentence for Roca and five-year terms for the others. Family members say the four rejected government offers to go into exile rather than face trial.
Scores of the defendants' supporters were temporarily detained before the hearings, evidently to prevent any protests outside the courthouse.