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Cuba’s most aggressive dissident, José Daniel Ferrer García, freed only last spring after eight years in prison, has declared a hunger strike to protest his three weeks in police custody without charges, his wife reported Monday.

Ferrer’s wife, Belkis Cantillo, told human rights activists that during her visit to Ferrer in a state security interrogation center in eastern Santiago de Cuba he told her, “they are killing me slowly” before a guard abruptly cut off the visit.

The dissident quickly shouted that he was going on a hunger strike, said Havana human rights activists Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, who noted that Cantillo telephoned him around 1 p.m. Monday, shortly after the prison visit.

Cantillo’s home and cellular phones appeared to be blocked, and El Nuevo Herald could contact her as of late Monday, but blogger Yoani Sánchez also Tweeted that Cantillo had reported her husband’s hunger strike.

Ferrer, 41, has been a thorn in the communist government’s side over the past year, organizing almost weekly protest marches in his hometown of Palmarito del Cauto and nearby Palma Soriano, 18 miles from Santiago, which drew unusually harsh police crackdowns.

He founded the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union and worked closely with Ladies in White in eastern Cuba as they were repeatedly detained while trying to attend Sunday masses in the Santiago Cathedral and the Virgin of Charity basilica in the nearby village of El Cobre.

Ferrer was one of the 75 peaceful dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s Black Spring, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Cuba branded them as “mercenaries” on the U.S. payroll.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro agreed in a 2010 dialogue with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino to free the last 52 of the 75 still in jail. Virtually all agreed to go into exile in Spain with their relatives, but Ferrer and 11 others insisted in remaining in Cuba.

Ferrer and 42 other dissidents were arrested April 2 during street protests in Palmarito and Palma. The others were freed hours later, but Ferrer was transferred to the provincial capital. The Castro government has made no public comment on his arrest.

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, last week added Ferrer to its list of “prisoners of conscience, detained only for peacefully exercising their right to free speech,” and expressing concern that he might be forced to serve the rest of his 25-year sentence.

Sánchez Santa Cruz said Cantillo told him that the guard cut short her visit when Ferrer began to make political statements, because only family issues are supposed to be discussed during such meetings.

Cantillo described Ferrer as having lost much weight and quoted him as saying, “They are killing me slowly” in a reference to the notorious swarms of mosquitoes that plague the state security interrogation center, the human rights activist added.

Juan Tamayo

(Reprinted with Permission from the Miami Herald)