- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

HAVANA (AP) - Cuba’s Ladies in White decided to pray instead of protest for their imprisoned relatives Tuesday as they marked the sixth anniversary of a crackdown in which the government jailed 75 activists and independent journalists.

About 30 women squeezed into the apartment of founding member Laura Pollan and chanted Roman Catholic prayers in unison, even seeking protection for Fidel and Raul Castro while urging Cuba’s leadership to respect human rights.

Fidel Castro was president in 2003, when authorities rounded up and accused dozens of people of plotting with Washington to undermine the communist government. Castro stepped aside in favor of his younger brother Raul last year.

Twenty prisoners have been released into forced exile or on medical parole, and the number of remaining inmates fell to 54 in January when a democracy activist completed his six-year sentence.

Pollan, whose husband, Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year prison sentence, read a letter demanding that the rest be freed.

Their activities were “not considered criminal in any country that enjoys a true democracy,” it said.

Last year, members of the group were detained for staging a sit-in near the Plaza of the Revolution, where Raul Castro keeps an office. To avoid confrontation this year, they read their letter to foreign reporters rather than deliver it to Cuban authorities.

The Ladies in White plan six days of protests this week, including somber processions to different churches.

Cuba’s government tolerates no organized opposition but allows the group to hold silent weekly marches.

Raul Castro has suggested that Cuban authorities could release the last 54 prisoners into forced exile if the U.S. frees five imprisoned Cuban spies.

But Pollan said Tuesday that most of the jailed activists reject a possible prisoner swap.

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