With Darsi Ferrer Sentencing, Cuba Cements Its Reputation for Justice

There aren't many countries where being sentenced to 16 months for having two sacks of cement in your home is considered a victory for human rights.

But this is Cuba, and Tuesday's sentencing of dissident Darsi Ferrer after a reportedly tense two-hour trial, was being hailed as a sign that the Castro brothers may be softening their stance on political activists.

The mild sentence for Ferrer, who has been designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, comes shortly after Catholic church officials negotiated the release of Ariel Sigler, an ailing political prisoner.

"Obviously the government could have given him a longer sentence and the fact is they didn't do it," Elizardo Sanchez, who heads Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the Latin American Herald Tribune.

Ferrer, who organized marches on Human Rights Day, was arrested on July 21, 2009 after officials found the cement bags and some iron bars in his home. He was accused of having bought them on the black market, but said a friend gave them to him before leaving the island.

Ferrer said he planned to used the materials to patch up his home. In Cuban only the government can do any patching.

Ferrer already had spent 11 months in prison when he was sentenced to an additional five months under house arrest. He will be free to roam the streets but cannot engage in any political activity.

Notch up another victory for Human Rights on the totalitarian island.

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