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U.N. imprisonment watchdog calls on Cuba to release Alan Gross

JTA

January 8, 2013 | 11:40 am

Jailed U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross, middle, with Cuban Jewish Community leader Adela Dworin, right, and David Prinstein, Vice President at Havana's Carlos J Finlay Military Hospital, on Sept. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Handout

Jailed U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross, middle, with Cuban Jewish Community leader Adela Dworin, right, and David Prinstein, Vice President at Havana's Carlos J Finlay Military Hospital, on Sept. 28. Photo by REUTERS/Handout

The United Nations Human Rights Council's imprisonment watchdog called on Cuba to release jailed Jewish-American contractor Alan Gross.

The Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in an opinion released Tuesday to Gross' lawyer that Cuba's lack of an independent judiciary, the imprecise nature of the alleged crime and the failure to grant bail to Gross rendered his 15-year sentence "arbitrary."

The opinion does not consider the charges against Gross, who delivered computer and Internet equipment to the island's tiny Jewish community, saying they are out of its purview. The opinion also rejects complaints by Gross' lawyer, Jared Genser, that Gross was denied due process and that the charges violate speech freedoms.

However, it notes from its previous considerations of Cuban cases that the country's judicial system serves at the whim of the country's one-party system.

It also says the vagueness of the section of the criminal code under which Gross was convicted "does not satisfy the requirement of a rigorous description of punishable conduct." The opinion also faults the courts for not releasing Gross on bail for 14 months.

"By virtue of what has been set out, the Working Group asks the Government of Cuba to immediately release Mr. Alan Phillip Gross," the 12-page opinion concludes.

The working group is made up of experts from Chile, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, and Ukraine.

Cuba is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in a news conference last month, a top Cuba official alluded to the report and suggested that Cuba would not heed its recommendation.

Cuba on Tuesday rejected the imprisonment watchdog's opinion and said its judiciary functions as independent within a socialist system.

Gross' wife, Judith, cited the opinion in her latest appeal Tuesday to Cuban President Raul Castro to release Gross.

"Given this ruling, I would like to know why your government is ignoring the declaration of the United Nations that his imprisonment to be wrongful and its request for Alan’s immediate release?" she asked Castro.

She also noted Gross' poor health -- he has lost 100 pounds since his arrest in December 2009 -- and again requested an independent medical examination.

She repeated a request that Castro allow Gross to visit his ailing mother, who is 90 and has cancer, as well as his family. One of Gross' daughters is a cancer survivor and the other recently survived a car accident.

Judith Gross concluded her appeal by "praising" Cuba's request for dialogue with the U.S. government on the matter, an allusion to Cuban suggestions that Gross could be exchanged for convicted spies known as the Cuban Five.

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