, HAVANA, Jan 27 – Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, the 2010 Sakharov rights prize winner, has been arrested and police are holding him in the central city of Santa Clara, his mother and dissidents said.
"I spoke with him, and he told me that he is under arrest in the third police unit in Santa Clara, and then he hung up," his mother Alicia Hernandez said by phone from the city located some 240 kilometers (150 miles) east of Havana.
Elizardo Sanchez, of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said the psychologist who went on a high-profile hunger strike last year was detained with 15 other opponents of the Americas\’ only one-party communist regime.
On December 15, an empty chair draped in a Cuban flag symbolized Havana\’s refusal to allow Farinas to pick up his prestigious Sakharov rights prize in Strasbourg.
In a recorded message to the European Parliament which gave him the award, left standing on the empty chair, Farinas signed off as "a psychologist, librarian, independent journalist, three-time political prisoner".
"I accept the prize," he said, "because I feel I am a tiny part of the rebellious spirit of this people I am proud to belong to."
The statement, in which the 48-year-old dissident repeatedly slammed the Cuban regime as "totalitarian," "autocratic" and "savage," brought the more than 700 members of the parliament to their feet in resounding applause.
"This empty chair," said parliament president Jerzy Buzek, "demonstrates just how much this award was necessary."
But the former Polish premier said there was hope for Cuba in the history of eastern Europe. "History repeats itself. In my country everything changed, and that is a reason to be optimistic.
"Our community of democratic nations today send a strong signal to Cuba," he said.
Farinas, who was unable to travel to the French city that houses the parliament when authorities failed to deliver an exit visa, urged Europeans at the time to fight for the release of Cuba\’s political prisoners, help end anti-opposition attacks and call for the creation of opposition parties and trade unions.
Farinas was nominated for the prize in October after staging a 135-day hunger strike, his 23rd, following the February death of fellow dissident Orlando Zapata.
He ended the protest when President Raul Castro authorized the release of 52 political prisoners on the heels of talks with senior Roman Catholic Church clerics in Havana.
According to Sanchez\’s commission, even after all the 52 inmates are released, there will still be 115 political prisoners held in Cuba, where censorship is enforced with an iron fist.
The Cuban government, which skirts the issue in its official media outlets, still denies holding any political prisoners; it says they are mercenaries in the pay of the United States.
Farinas was the third Cuban to receive the Sakharov prize, after dissident activist Oswaldo Paya in 2002 and the 2005 awarding to the Ladies in White, a group of women whose dissident husbands are jailed.
In a case that brought a loud international outcry, and embarrassment to the government, Zapata had died February 23, 2010 in a Havana hospital on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.
Orlando Zapata, jailed since 2003 and deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, had been on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that he blamed for his deteriorating health.