Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas refused exit visa

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Image caption,
Farinas: Government "is behaving in an arrogant manner"

The Cuban authorities have refused an exit visa for a leading Cuban dissident to travel to France to receive the EU's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Guillermo Farinas launched a prolonged hunger strike earlier this year, protesting against the plight of Cuba's political prisoners.

He called the Cuban authorities arrogant for not granting him permission to travel.

He said it revealed their disregard for individual liberty.

Mr Farinas was near to death earlier this year, on a drip feed in hospital, when President Raul Castro authorised the release of 52 of the island's most prominent prisoners of conscience.

It was an unprecedented breakthrough brokered by the Roman Catholic Church.

The 48-year-old political activist had hoped to attend Wednesday's award ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought is the EU's top annual human rights award and the winner receives about $70,000 (£44,400).

Earlier this week the president of the European Parliament made a last-minute plea to the Cuban authorities on Guillermo Farinas' behalf but to no avail.

Instead the Cuban dissident will be represented by an empty chair.

It will be the second time in a week there will be an empty chair at an international human rights award ceremony, after imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo was unable to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.

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