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U.N. Watchdog Urges Release of Jailed American

January 9, 2013 By:
JTA
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Alan Gross with his wife, Judy, at the Western Wall in the spring of 2005. Photo courtesy of the Gross family

WASHINGTON — The United Nations Human Rights Council’s imprisonment watchdog called on Cuba to release Alan Gross, an American Jew who is serving a 15-year sentence.

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 sentence “arbitrary.”

Gross, a Maryland resident, was arrested in 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.”

He was working for USAID, a government agency, and was arrested for allegedly bringing satellite phones and other banned technological equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.

Gross’ health has reportedly deteriorated during his three plus years of captivity. Jewish groups have pressed for his release and Gross’ imprisonment has become a major sticking point in U.S.-Cuban relations.

The Human Rights Council opinion does not consider the charges against Gross, 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.

Cuba on Tuesday rejected the group’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 is wrongful and its request for Alan’s immediate release?” she asked Castro.

She also noted Gross’ poor health — he reportedly has lost 100 pounds since his arrest — and again requested an independent medical examination. She also repeated a request that Castro allow Gross to visit his ailing mother, who is 90 and has cancer.

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