Pope Expresses Distress to Castro Over Treatment of Dissidents

Calls for «Sincere Confrontation»

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 28, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II has urged Fidel Castro to grant clemency to Cuban dissidents, including three sentenced to death.

The Pope’s reaction was reflected in a letter written on Palm Sunday, April 13, by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and addressed to the Cuban president at the express wish of the Holy Father.

In the letter, published by the Vatican press office last Saturday, the cardinal communicated the Holy Father’s distress «upon learning of the severe sentences imposed recently on numerous Cuban citizens and, also, for some sentences of capital punishment.»

The letter also contains the Pope’s request to the Cuban leader «to give consideration to a significant gesture of clemency toward those condemned, with the certainty that such an act would contribute to create a climate of greater relaxation for the benefit of the beloved Cuban people.»

«I am sure that you also share with me the conviction that only a sincere and constructive confrontation between citizens and civil authorities can guarantee the development of a modern and democratic state in an ever more united and fraternal Cuba,» the cardinal added.

The Castro government arrested 75 dissidents at the end of March, most of them intellectuals and journalists, and sentenced them to up to 28 years in prison.

A firing squad executed three men accused of hijacking a ferry in a failed attempt to reach the United States. The measure put an end to a three-year moratorium on capital punishment in Cuba.

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