Havana called on the US Government to immediately release the convicted citizens
A US appeals court overturned the conviction of five Cuban citizen accused of spying for their country saying that “pervasive prejudice against the government of President Fidel Castro had prevented them from getting a fair trial in Miami.” The rule came shortly after a United Nations human rights body condemned the sentences – three to life imprisonment and the others to 15- and 19-year terms - as arbitrary and unduly harsh for the men.
“The Cuban five” as they became known are hailed in Cuba as national heroes and Havana has called on the US government to release them immediately. Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon applauded Tuesday's ruling, as he insisted the men be liberated while awaiting a new trial.
"What the U.S. government should do is grant them freedom immediately," Alarcon told Granma International, the Communist Party's weekly newspaper distributed overseas. "If they want to accuse them of something else, then accuse them, present evidence, and search for an impartial tribunal."
The US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ordered new trials for the 'Cuban five,' who were convicted in 2001 on conspiracy and espionage charges.The appeals court in Atlanta acknowledged in its ruling that reversing the convictions would be unpopular and offensive to many US citizens.
“However the court is equally mindful that those same citizens cherish and support the freedoms they enjoy in this country that are unavailable to residents of Cuba,” the court said. “One of our most sacred freedoms is the right to be tried fairly in a non-coercive atmosphere.”
Alarcon said the decision vindicated Castro's government, which has run a high-profile campaign on the island and abroad promoting the five men as heroes who were victims of anti-Cuban bias in southern Florida. "No one can say any longer that our claim that the judicial process was filled with prejudice ... has no basis," he said.
Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Gerardo Fernandez, Fernando Gonzalez and Antonio Guerrero were convicted in June 2001 of serving as unregistered agents of a foreign government. All five acknowledge being Cuban agents but said they were spying on "terrorist" exile groups opposed to Castro, not the U.S. government.
One of them has been accused of being behind the downing of two small aircrafts piloted by anti-Castro Cuban exiles near the Florida Straits. In the incident, Cuban MiG's shot down the planes killing four people.
Since the Cuban Five were convicted, Havana launched a worldwide campaign to release the men known as “Free the five now!”, spreading solidarity amid the international community on the cause of its citizens.