Jail cell on Wenceslas Square four years after Cuban dissident crackdown

Photo: Freddy Valverde

There was an odd sight waiting for passers-by on Prague's Wenceslas Square on Friday - a jail cell, complete with prisoners wearing striped fatigues. It was put there by the Czech NGO People in Need, to remind people of the imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents on March 16th, 2003.

Nikola Horejs,  photo: Freddy Valverde
A little piece of Cuba came to Prague on Friday, but not the piece seen by most tourists. Instead, it was a mock-up prison cell, similar to the one where many of the 75 dissidents arrested in the 2003 crackdown are still serving out long prison sentences. Nikola Horejs is from People in Need's centre for human rights and democracy:

"This was started after March 2003, when 75 journalists and opposition politicians were jailed in Cuba in a massive crackdown. Since then, we've been doing this in solidarity with them. So we try to sit in the jail so they would not have to spend so much time in their jail themselves."

Photo: Freddy Valverde
Throughout Friday, politicians, journalists and other public figures are taking it in turns to don Cuban prison fatigues and climb into the cell. At one point female veterans of Charter 77 - the dissident movement which stood up for human rights in communist Czechoslovakia - will be symbolically imprisoned as a gesture of their support for the wives of Cuban political prisoners, the so-called Damas de Blanco. There will also be theatre performances and a mass in the evening.

One of the first to climb into the cell was former student leader Jan Bubenik, who was arrested in Cuba along with former MP Ivan Pilip in 2001, after trying to pass materials to Cuban dissidents. Jan Bubenik has first-hand experience of a real Cuban prison cell:

Jan Bubenik,  photo: CTK
"Unfortunately. Me and Ivan Pilip were in Cuba in 2001 to meet a few dissidents and independent journalists, which unfortunately ended up with our apprehension and imprisonment for several weeks. This is why I'm here, to express my solidarity with the people in prison in Cuba and with their families, who live in very miserable conditions."

People in Need say they'll continue to hold the event on Wenceslas Square until the dissidents are released. They might be waiting some time. There were reports on Friday that Fidel Castro will stand for another term as president next year. At the same time, the eyes of the world's media are focused on a rather different detention centre in Cuba - the American prison camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.