Cuba will free three more political prisoners and send them to Spain, the Catholic Church said on Saturday, in an expansion of its release of imprisoned opponents.
The three to be released were in addition to the 52 the government already pledged to free in a deal with the church announced in July, a human rights activist said.
“Evidently, today has begun a second phase in the process of releases of opponents who do not belong to the group of 52,” said Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights.
Cuban President Raul Castro appears to be intent on ending the political prisoner controversy that has marred Cuba’s international relations for years and particularly since 75 dissidents were jailed in a 2003 crackdown.
In the July deal brokered by the Catholic Church, he agreed to free the 52 prisoners who remained in jail from the crackdown and the church has said he wants to release all other dissidents still behind bars. The move to release prisoners came after the communist-led island was heavily criticized following the February death of imprisoned hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
There is wide-ranging disagreement on how many more prisoners Cuba has, although Sanchez has said there could still be about 100.
Of the group of 52, 39 have been freed and sent to Spain, and 13 are still waiting to be freed.
Sanchez said 12 of them have refused to go to Spain, which the Cuban government is seeking to make part of the deal because it wants the dissidents out of the country.
Cuba considers the prisoners to be mercenaries working for its long-time ideological foe, the US.
The three soon-to-be released prisoners included one on Amnesty International’s list of Cuban prisoners of conscience and two others who tried to escape Cuba by hijacking.