Cuban dissidents say they hope pope highlights human rights

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September 20, 2015

Former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the dissent movement Union Patriotica de Cuba, speaks during an interview in Havana Sept. 11. A week before Pope Francis arrived in Cuba, the Communist government agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, including elderly and people under 20 with no prior offenses. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA) See CUBA-DISSENT-RIGHTS Sept. 20, 2015.

Former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the dissent movement Union Patriotica de Cuba, speaks during an interview in Havana Sept. 11. A week before Pope Francis arrived in Cuba, the Communist government agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, including elderly and people under 20 with no prior offenses. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba (CNS) — A week before Pope Francis arrived here, the communist government agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, including elderly people and people under 20 with no prior offenses.

It was seen as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the papal visit, one meant to signal the Cuban government has grown more tolerant. But just two days later, on Sept. 13, Cuban authorities cracked down on political dissidents, arresting 140 members of two opposition groups and allegedly beating some of them before they attempted to attend Mass in Santiago de Cuba.

In the days that followed, more members of opposition groups were arrested, including more than 20 members of the Ladies in White, a group founded by women whose husbands and relatives had been jailed for their opposition to the government, and members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident group.

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