Cuban police detained nearly 50 activists who took part in a march led by a Roman Catholic dissident group in Havana on Sunday. The dissidents were detained less than a week before Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba.
The dissidents, called on the island’s government to release political prisoners. The dissidents, mostly members of the predominantly Catholic dissident group, Ladies in White, were walking through the streets of Havana holding pictures of prisoners who they claim are being held for political reasons.
Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler told Reuters that she was planning to hold demonstrations during Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba on Sept. 19.
"I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public," Soler said.
Cuban government said the protesters were financed by anti-communist groups in the United States to destabilize the government in Havana.
The activists were handcuffed and the police shoved them into cars and vans. Several members of Ladies in White and activists from other opposition groups were released a few hours after they were detained on Sunday afternoon, Cuba’s main dissident website, 14yMedio, reported.
The group has criticised the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal, Jaime Ortega for being too friendly with the government of Raul Castro and failing to speak up against human rights abuses.
"The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved. It's their duty," said Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country's largest dissident organization. He was released about an hour after his detention.
The Roman Catholic Church said it defends the importance of human rights, but cannot take up individual political causes.
Over the last few months, hundreds of people have been detained across Cuba dissidents said. In August alone, Cuban police detained 768 dissidents for taking part in political activities, according to the dissident Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Pope Francis helped restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than five decades of hostilities. Following that, US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, declared on December, 2014 that they had agreed to fix relations.