Cuban police detained twice more dissidents so far this year — and often with more violence — than in the same period in 2010, according to a report by a Havana human rights group.

Activists in Cuba disagreed on the exact number of detentions and whether they rose because of an increase in dissident activities or a spike in government repression.

But they uniformly reported that the level of physical violence against dissidents increased significantly in the first six months of the year, and that the number of detentions more than doubled.

“The most disquieting … and notable thing in this report is the really unprecedented increase in violence,” said Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

His committee’s report for June, issued Tuesday, noted that the “physical violence employed by the political police, its agents or para-police elements against peaceful opponents during the month has been particularly disquieting.”

Sánchez’s report also documented a 110 percent increase in the number of “persons detained temporarily for political reasons” — from 821 in the first six months of 2010 to 1,727 in the same period this year.

The list included male and female dissidents reportedly beaten during or after their detentions, and Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who died after an alleged police beating. The government has denied the allegation.

Sparking the crackdown is “the visible increase in social discontent” in recent years, Sánchez added by telephone. “And this has been reflected in an increased activism by dissidents throughout the country.”

He also noted that a significant portion of the detentions and violence took place in eastern Cuba — historically wary of any Havana government — and the central province of Villa Clara, which appears to a focus of opposition to the island’s communist system.

What Sánchez described as a “low intensity repression” has come as the Raúl Castro government freed more than 125 political prisoners over the past year following unprecedented talks with Cuba’s Catholic Church.

Another Havana activist, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, said he agreed with Sánchez on the increased violence and arrests, but not on the numbers. His Cuban Council of Human Rights Reporters documented more than 3,000 “temporary detentions” so far this year.

Such detentions, from a few hours to a few days, are designed to intimidate dissidents or block planned opposition gatherings. Gonzalez Leiva called it “state terrorism, to maintain control.”

John Suarez, international secretary for the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate, said Castro had made an apparently approving reference to the violence during a speech in April.

“We will never deny the people’s right to defend the Revolution,” Castro told the closing session of a Communist Party congress, the party’s most important gathering in 14 years.

Suarez also noted eight dissidents were sentenced to up to five years in prison this year, compared to two in all of 2010. Others put the number of dissidents tried or in jail while awaiting trial at closer to 20.

Gonzalez Leiva said his council also has documented increased numbers of “repudiation acts,” or harassments of dissidents by government-organized mobs. Many have taken place in small towns and villages that had never before seen such attacks on government opponents, he added.

“In general terms, one could speak of a sharp deterioration” in Cuba’s human rights record, he added, “that has been seen rarely in previous years.”

In Sanchez’s report, the month with the most temporary detentions was February with 390 — most of them linked to government efforts to avert gatherings marking the one-year anniversary of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during a hunger strike.



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