Summary and Current Status
On Saturday, February 12, 2011, after serving more than 7 years and 10 months of his 20-year prison term, Cuban engineer Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez was granted humanitarian parole and released from prison.
Mr. Maseda was arrested on March 19, 2003, after he engaged in peaceful political activities as co-founder and president of the unofficial Liberal Democratic Party of Cuba.
He was one of 75 Cubans who were arrested, summarily tried, and convicted during a massive crackdown by the Cuban government. Amnesty International adopted all of these individuals, including Mr. Maseda, as prisoners of conscience.
Mr. Maseda graduated in 1974 from the “José Antonio Echevarría” Technology Faculty at the University of Havana with a degree in electrical engineering. From December 1978 until January 1983 he took courses toward a doctorate in Technical Sciences, specializing in nuclear electronics. The defense of his thesis on “The Application of Microprocessors in the Radioisotope Instrument to Analyze the Concentration of Solids in Pulp and the Method to Test their Reliability,” scheduled for the first four months of 1983, was cancelled following a determination by the Cuban government that he had demonstrated “little political trustworthiness.” As a result, Mr. Maseda was unable to complete his PhD.
From 1978 until 1982, Mr. Maseda worked for the International Atomic Energy Organization on a project about “The Application of Radioisotopes in Industry: Design, Construction and Set-up of the Radioisotope Instrument to Analyze Iron.” In 1979, he became a founding member of the nuclear physics section of the Cuban Physics Association. An active mason, Mr. Maseda has participated in the Great Lodge of Cuba and was a member of the National Commission of Masonic Teaching.
Mr. Maseda worked for a number of government-affiliated entities in Cuba, including the National Center for Scientific Research (CENIC – Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas), for more than two decades. In early 1983, however, the Cuban government decided that he was “not meeting the conditions for political ideological trustworthiness” that it deemed necessary for work in scientific and technical institutions, fired him from his job with CENIC, and expelled him from the Cuban Communist Party. Because the vast majority of the engineering jobs in Cuba are with government-related entities, Mr. Maseda has not found full-time, salaried employment in his field since that time. From 1994 until his arrest, he was self-employed as an electronics technician.
Peaceful activities as a dissident
Mr. Maseda became a dissident in the 1990s. He is a co-founder and the current
president of the unofficial Liberal Democratic Party of Cuba (Partido Liberal Democrático de Cuba). In 1998 he helped found the Decorum Work Group (Grupo de Trabajo Decoro). During the next five years he wrote hundreds of articles, essays, and reports about Cuba on a wide range of subjects, including history, economics, the environment, culture, and the prison system. His writings were published by Reporters without Borders, Le Monde, Perfiles Liberales, El Nuevo Herald, and The New York Times. Some of Mr. Maseda’s writings were published in the online Madrid-based daily, Encuentro en la red, and on the U.S.-based website Cubanet. On numerous occasions, Mr. Maseda reportedly read his articles aloud on Radio José Martí, but he has vehemently denied the Cuban government’s allegations that he received monetary compensation for doing so. He gave a lengthy interview to The Telegraph of the United Kingdom in 2002. Mr. Maseda has been consistently nonviolent in the exercise of his freedom of thought and expression.
Mr. Maseda reportedly was repeatedly harassed over a number of years for his peaceful activities and was detained briefly in September 1997. In May 2000, he was threatened with prison if he attended a conference on culture and globalization. In a press interview with ABC News in 2000, Mr. Maseda stated that in 1998 state security agents confiscated a word processor from his home that had been donated by a U.S.-based organization.
Arrest and Trial
On the night of March 19, 2003, Mr. Maseda was arrested at his apartment in central Havana. At the time of his arrest, a dozen state security agents searched his home and confiscated two typewriters, a fax machine, a modem, a radio, some books, and several copies of Cuba’s 1940 constitution.
On March 31, 2003, the prosecution presented its indictment of Mr. Maseda, which contained “provisional conclusions.” In it the prosecution accused Mr. Maseda of having committed “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the State.” The prosecutors concluded that in 1998 Mr. Maseda signed and circulated a letter, titled “To Foreign Investors with Interests in Cuba,” to foreign diplomats and media outlets. The letter encouraged investors not to comply with the labor regimen described in Law 77, which was approved on September 5, 1995, because he considered it to be unjust.
On April 3, 2003, Mr. Maseda was brought to trial, together with five other dissidents. (The CHR also adopted the cases of two of Mr. Maseda’s co-defendants—economist Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe and medical doctor Marcelo Cano Rodríguez.) On April 6, 2003, he was convicted by the People’s Provincial Court of the city of Havana—under “Law 88 for the Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba” and Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code—and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Law 88 imposes up to 20 years in prison on anyone who is found guilty of committing “acts that in agreement with imperialist interests are aimed at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroy its political, economic and social system.” Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code stipulates that “he who, in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independent or territorial integrity of the Cuban State, incurs the penalty of ten to twenty years imprisonment or death.”
The legal proceedings against Mr. Maseda and his co-defendants failed to meet international fair trial standards in a number of ways. Their trial, in which summary procedures were used, reportedly lasted less than 15 hours and included 3 court recesses that totaled 4 hours. It began at 10 a.m. on April 3 and ended at 4:30 a.m. on April 4. Mr. Maseda’s wife, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, and three of his children were permitted to attend the trial, while a son-in-law was turned away. The trial was not public.
Mr. Maseda was not notified of his trial date by the authorities and only learned of it the day before during a 15-minute visit with his wife. According to reliable reports, Mr. Maseda was not given adequate access to a lawyer before the trial, and his lawyer did not have access to his case file until the afternoon of April 2 (the day before the trial), and then he was allowed to study its contents for only two hours. The lawyer was able to meet and speak with Mr. Maseda for just two hours before the trial and that time was shared with one of his co-defendants, who was represented by the same lawyer. This rushed, last-minute contact clearly did not allow Mr. Maseda’s lawyer time to prepare an adequate defense. Indeed, during the trial his lawyer failed to mention that the Cuban authorities were seeking to apply Law 88 ex post facto in Mr. Maseda’s case. Although Law 88 was enacted in 1999, Mr. Maseda was charged under it for an act—the signing and circulation of a letter—that took place in 1998. This is a violation of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that “No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.” Mr. Maseda rose in his own defense to point out this fact during the trial.
Furthermore, before Mr. Maseda and the other 74 dissidents who were arrested in the spring of 2003 had been brought to trial and given the opportunity to defend themselves, the Cuban government announced their detention on national television and reportedly accused them of being linked to “acts of conspiracy,” through contact with the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, thereby depriving them of their fundamental right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial, as promulgated by Article 11 of the UDHR.
Mr. Maseda’s lawyer reportedly presented an appeal on his client’s behalf within 72 hours of his sentencing, as required by the Cuban authorities. The appeal argued against the retroactive application of Law 88 and noted that Cuban law dictates that the sentence of a person, such as Mr. Maseda, who was more than 60-years-old, should be reduced by one third. Nonetheless, his appeal was denied, and his sentence was upheld by the Courtroom for Crimes against State Security of the People’s Supreme Court on June 6, 2003.
Conditions of confinement and prison transfers
Initially, Mr. Maseda was incarcerated at “La Pendiente” provincial penitentiary in Villa Clara in the province of Santa Clara. He reportedly was held for 17 months in solitary confinement in a 1.5 by 3 meter cell. He was subjected to a prison regimen that permits a visit by two family members every three months and a conjugal visit every five months. In the early months of his imprisonment, his conditions of confinement violated Articles 15 and 19 of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which address proper sanitary conditions and bedding respectively. Reliable reports indicate that, although Mr. Maseda suffered from serious skin allergies as a result of the unsanitary conditions, his wife was not allowed to give him soap or medicines. After more than two months of continual discomfort and consultations with prison doctors, a dermatologist and an orthopedist, the moldy and mildewed mattress in Mr. Maseda's cell was changed for one made of raw cotton, and his condition reportedly improved.
It is our understanding that, in August 2004, prison authorities moved Mr. Maseda within the penitentiary to Destacamento #4, a cell block for common criminals who are repeat offenders, where he was held in a cubicle with a dozen other men. Mr. Maseda, who was imprisoned for the first time, reportedly was assigned a top bunk on one of the five three-tiered cots in the cubicle. In November 2004, guards reportedly inspected Mr. Maseda’s personal effects and confiscated three chapters of a book that he was writing. Later, on January 4, 2005, he reportedly was subjected to another inspection of his belongings and forced to disrobe and crouch in a hallway in front of other prisoners. The guards reportedly explained to him that this degrading procedure was used to ensure that he had not hidden anything in his anal cavity. While he was held in the Destacamento #4,
Mr. Maseda reportedly refused to accept visits or the food packages provided by his family in protest against his conditions of confinement.
On January 26, 2005, Mr. Maseda reportedly was moved to the Villa Clara Youth Prison in the province of Santa Clara, some 270 kilometers from his home and family in Havana. There he reportedly was held in a cell with a convicted murderer in a section of the prison where the inmates are subjected to a Special Incremental Regime within the Penitentiary (REI – Régimen Penitenciario Especial Incrementado) until September 2005. It is our understanding that the REI is usually reserved, not for prisoners of conscience such as Mr. Maseda who have sought to peacefully exercise their fundamental rights, but rather for those who have committed violent crimes for which they have received the death penalty or 30-year prison sentences.
During the period that Mr. Maseda was incarcerated in the two prison facilities in the province of Santa Clara, he and his wife made at least four formal requests to Cuban authorities that he be transferred to a prison closer to his place of residence in Havana. We understand that Cuban authorities denied these requests, claiming that the same medical assistance as he had been receiving in prison in Santa Clara would not be available. It is noteworthy that there are several facilities in Havana which provide medical services to prisons, among them the “Carlos J. Finlay” Military Hospital and the National Hospital for Inmates inside of the “Combinado del Este” penitentiary.
On December 19, 2005, Mr. Maseda was transferred again, this time to a special maximum security prison in the town of Colón Agüica in the province of Matanzas, some 190 kilometers from Havana. In terms of both time and money, it was a hardship for his family members to travel this considerable distance to visit him in prison. This situation contravened both national and international law. Under Cuban law, an inmate has a right to be held in a prison located in his province of residence, if his alleged crimes were committed in this same locality and if he was detained, convicted, and sentenced by a court in his province.
Mr. Maseda’s prison regimen was upgraded twice, in August 2008 and October 2009, permitting more frequent contact with his family. Prison authorities facilitated 25-minute
telephone calls between him and his family once a week.
On June 12, 2010, following private conversations between Cuban President Raúl Castro
and Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Roman Catholic Church, Cuban authorities transferred
Mr. Maseda to “El Pitirre” Prison, commonly referred to as “Unit 1580,” a medium security
facility on the outskirts of Havana. This prison was in closer proximity to his home and
In early July 2010, following another round of conversations between President Castro and
Cardinal Ortega and during a visit to Cuba by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel
Moratinos, an announcement was made that over the course of the next 4 months the
Cuban government would release from prison all 52 men who remained in prison from the
original group of 75 mentioned in the summary section above. During the months that
followed, the Cuban government released 40 of the 52 men from prison, and they were
flown to Spain, together with several members of their families. Mr. Maseda was one of the remaining 12 prisoners who refused to agree to release from prison that was conditional
upon immediate departure from Cuba or was granted as parole.
On February 11, 2011, a spokesperson from Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church announced
that Mr. Maseda had been granted humanitarian parole and would be released from prison. According to press reports that day, Mr. Maseda refused to accept parole and told
prison authorities that he would not leave “El Pitirre” Prison until he was exonerated or pardoned. The following day, five state security officials reportedly escorted him to his
home in central Havana. Upon his arrival there, journalists quoted him as saying, "I have
left prison against my will. I never would have accepted leaving jail on parole."
Throughout his years of imprisonment, Mr. Maseda’s poor health was of concern. He
reportedly suffered from lower back pain, high blood pressure, periarthritis, seborrheic
dermatitis, and actinic skin with lesions. Several of his ailments were chronic and required monitoring and treatment.
While in prison, Mr. Maseda wrote a memoir, Enterrados Vivos (Buried Alive), which he
managed to smuggle out of prison several pages at a time. His book was published in the
United States in 2007.
In November 2008, in absentia, Mr. Maseda received the prestigious International Press
Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. A video was prepared about
his case for the award ceremony.