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Jailed Cuba dissident dies after hunger strike

21 january 2012, 12:51
Activist Elizardo Sanchez.  
©REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Activist Elizardo Sanchez. ©REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
A jailed Cuban dissident has died after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment by the Western Hemisphere's only one-party communist regime, rights activists told AFP.

Wilmar Villar, 31, passed away Thursday at 6:45 pm (2345 GMT) after protesting against a four-year sentence handed down in November, opposition activist Elizardo Sanchez told AFP.

Sanchez, who leads the banned but tolerated Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said Villar had spent several days in "critical condition" at a hospital in the southeast of the Caribbean island.

"The Cuban government bears complete moral, political and legal responsibility for the death of Wilmar, because he was in the custody of the authorities," Sanchez said, calling it an "avoidable death."

Cuban authorities have not commented on the case, but the official blogger Yohandry wrote that Villar died of "multiple organ failure due to general sepsis," a blood disease caused by a bacterial infection.

In February 2010 the well-known activist Orlando Zapata -- considered a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International -- died after an 85-day hunger strike, galvanizing opponents of the decades-old regime.

Zapata, considered a "common criminal" by Cuban authorities, was initially handed a three-year sentence that was later extended to more than 25 years.

Villar was a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, an opposition group that operates in the east of the island, according to Sanchez.

The father of two was convicted of "contempt, resistance and assault" and joined some 60 political prisoners being held in Cuba, according to Sanchez's group.

The government led by President Raul Castro -- the brother of the anti-US revolutionary icon Fidel -- denies it is holding any political prisoners, and considers jailed opposition activists to be US-backed "mercenaries."

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