Fri | Jun 2, 2023

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2023 | 9:16 PM
Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel (right) talks with Cardinal Beniamino Stella during a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of St Paul II's apostolic journey to Cuba, at Havana University in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, February 8, 2023. Stella arrived in Cuba as Pope Francis’ special envoy on January 24. (Adalberto Roque/Pool photo via AP)

HAVANA (AP) — Pope Francis hopes Cuban authorities will release and grant amnesty to people arrested and sentenced after the historic protests that took place in 2021, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who travelled to the island as the pontiff's special envoy, said Wednesday.

During an act at the University of Havana to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to the island, Cardinal Stella also said the Catholic Church hopes that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and US President Joe Biden can hold talks amid current tense relations between the countries.

Stella, who arrived in Cuba in mid-January and will remain there until February 10, recalled the figures of Father Félix Varela and José Martí, considered national heroes in Cuba, and emphasised the need for understanding among Cubans.

Asked by journalists about the possibility the Catholic Church could intercede to have Cuban authorities grant amnesty to people imprisoned during the 2021 protests, the first in decades on the island, Stella said he had talked with the pontiff about the issue before the trip to Cuba.

According to non-governmental groups, about 1,300 people were arrested following the protests.

Some of the demonstrations turned violent, including looting and rioting, and one person was killed.

Authorities reported about 700 sentences handed down related to the protests, with sentences ranging from a fine and community work to up to 30 years in prison for sedition.

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