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Dr. Oscar Biscet, Prisoner of Conscience Testifies at U.S. Congressional Hearing from Havana

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Washington, Feb 16, 2012 | Jeff Sagnip (202-225-3765) | comments

From Havana, Cuba, former political prisoner Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, M.D., a courageous human rights advocate who has spent over 11 years in jail, testified today before a rare joint hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) of the House subcommittee on human rights, as well as the subcommittee that addresses Western Hemisphere issues.

    From Havana, Cuba, former political prisoner Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, M.D., a courageous human rights advocate who has spent over 11 years in jail, testified today before a rare joint hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) of the House subcommittee on human rights, as well as the subcommittee that addresses Western Hemisphere issues.

    “Dr. Biscet was released in March 2011,” Smith said. “He has courageously remained in Cuba, where he continues to advocate for human rights. For his extraordinary bravery and commitment to freedom for the Cuban people, many of us have twice recommended Dr. Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.

    Biscet described physical torture and humiliation of prisoners, including being stripped naked, kept in the dark, and given no ventilation, no toilet, no clean water to drink, and no ability speak to other prisoners.

    “The regime is characteristically anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-black,” Biscet said. “Its permanence in power is due to the use of terror and extreme police control over its citizens.”

    Other witnesses were U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (IN-05), co-author of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996; and journalist Normando Hernández González, independent reporter and former political prisoner.

    Smith said Cuba’s political prisoners are held along with the rest of the prison population, in substandard and unhealthy conditions, where they face physical and sexual abuse.

    “Most prisoners suffer from malnutrition and reside in overcrowded cells without appropriate medical attention.  In fact, political prisoners face selective denial of medical care,” Smith said. “Cuban prisons fail to segregate those held in pre-trial detention from long-term violent inmates, and minors are often mixed in with adults.  Such are the conditions opponents of the Castro regime have faced over the years – some of them for decades.”

    Smith asked Biscet if he thought there was political indifference to Cuba’s human rights violations in the U.S. or international organizations like the United Nations.

    “We appreciate the work that has been done to help us,” Biscet said. “But the issues and the human rights violations in Cuba need to be expressed further to these international communities. They seem not to be getting the point or understand that this is really happening.” Click here to read Dr. Biscet’s opening remarks in Spanish.

    The full hearing can be viewed by clicking here. (Forward approx. 21 minutes to start of hearing at 2 p.m. mark).

    Over the years Smith had frequently called for Biscet’s release on the House floor, in congressional hearings and other forums, and twice nominated Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize. Most recently, in January 2011, Smith led 25 members of Congress in nominating Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize, and played a leading role in the international movement to nominate Biscet for the prize (other nominators included the prime minister of Hungary and parliamentarians from Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom). Click here to read a March 2011 floor statement honoring Biscet’s upon his release from prison.

    Smith was featured in the 2010 documentary film “Oscar’s Cuba”, which put an international spotlight on Biscet’s case. Smith and Congressman Frank Wolf (VA-10th) have for years sought to make a humanitarian visit to Cuba to check on Biscet and other political prisoners. Smith said his attempts to travel to Cuba have been thwarted by the Cuban government which has refused the two Congressmen an entry visa. In 2002 Smith launched the Congressional Cuban Political Prisoners Initiative by which members of Congress could “adopt” Cuban political prisoners, in order to more effectively highlight the prisoners’ plight; Smith “adopted” Biscet. 

    Biscet founded the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights in 1997, in collaboration with fellow members of the peaceful opposition movement. He was arrested in 1999 after organizing a protest march and sentenced to three years in prison. Released in November 2002, Biscet was arrested again a month later after meeting with other dissidents and organizing a group to teach people how to defend their human rights. He was then sentenced to 25 years in prison. In recognition of Biscet’s fearless advocacy for human rights and democracy in Cuba, in 2007 President Bush awarded Dr. Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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