May 8, 2011 / 4:23 PM / 6 years ago

Cuban opposition says police killed dissident

2 Min Read

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban dissident died on Saturday after he was beaten by police following a protest last week in the city of Santa Clara, fellow government opponents charged on Sunday.

They said former political prisoner Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, 46, was taken to a hospital following the incident on Thursday and never recovered.

The government has not yet confirmed or denied the report.

Soto was a member of a little known opposition group in Santa Clara and had served 12 years behind bars as a political prisoner, prominent opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez said in a message on Twitter.

He was said to have had a heart problem and other health issues, but Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights said the beating provoked his death.

"There is no question that there is a relation between cause and effect, between the beating he received on Thursday at the hands of the police and his death," Sanchez told Reuters.

Soto was to be buried on Sunday afternoon in Santa Clara, where local dissidents reported a heavy presence of security forces, Yoani Sanchez said on Twitter.

Elizardo Sanchez demanded that there be an open investigation of the case and said police were becoming increasingly brutal in their handling of dissent.

Soto's death follows that of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo last year, which touched off an international firestorm of criticism over Cuba's repression of dissent.

Zapata, who was 42 and serving a 36-year sentence for various convictions, died on February 23, 2010 after an 85-day hunger strike over demands for better prison conditions.

Three months later, President Raul Castro met with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega and agreed to release 52 political prisoners in an accord made public in July.

Since then more than a hundred prisoners have been let go, most into exile in Spain.

Havana says that dissidents are mercenaries organized and funded by its longtime foe, the United States.

Editing by Jeff Franks and Vicki Allen

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