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Cuban Political Prisoners Sew Mouths Shut as Castro Frees Thousands of Criminals

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It's that most special time of the year in Havana, when Raul Castro dresses up as Santa Claus and frees thousands of prisoners as a holiday gesture. Of course there's a long list of convicts excluded from his Christmas amnesty -- most notably hundreds of political prisoners, and Alan Gross, the American contractor who's been held for two years in Castro's jails.

Some political prisoners excluded from the release were upset enough to literally sew their mouths shut, one dissident tells the Telegraph today.

Castro announced the amnesty program on Christmas Day, telling state media that 2,900 convicts would be released from jails early. The list includes dozens of foreigners and some prisoners who have been deemed ready to reintegrate into society.

However, Raul Castro made it clear that many wouldn't be eligible for the paroles, including "those who were convicted of crimes of espionage, terrorism, murder, drug trafficking, violent pederasty, rape, the corruption of minors and armed robbery," according to a translation by the Havana Times.

That list of exclusions includes Gross, a 61-year-old from Maryland arrested in December 2009 while installing Internet access for Jewish communities on the island.

"We are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to extend this humanitarian release to Mr. Gross this holiday season," a U.S. State Department spokesman tells the JTA, a Jewish news service.

The most gruesome protest to the selective holiday gesture came from a group of political prisoners in the town of Boniato, though.

"About ten prisoners sewed their mouths shut," Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident leader, tells the Telegraph.

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