Cuban court upholds jail sentence of Jewish-American

Alan Gross's lawyer slams decision, says his family remains hopeful for release; ADL, US Jewish groups call on Havana to release Gross.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
August 6, 2011 02:08
2 minute read.
Alan Gross and his wife Judy in Jerusalem, 2005.

alan gross_311 reuters. (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)

 
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NEW YORK – Cuba’s Supreme Court on Friday rejected the appeal of Jewish-American aid contractor Alan Gross, upholding his conviction on charges of undermining the state.

Gross’s lawyer Peter J. Kahn on Friday criticized the court’s decision and said the Maryland native’s family remained hopeful that he would be released soon.

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“While we are not surprised, we are extremely disappointed with today’s ruling, which marks the end of Alan’s legal process in Cuba,” Kahn said in a statement. “The family is heartbroken by today’s decision, but remains hopeful that there continues to be room for a diplomatic resolution of this matter.”

The 62-year-old Gross was sent to Havana by the United States Agency for International Development in 2009 to set up a communications center for the local Jewish community. He was arrested in December of that year by Cuban police for bringing satellite phones and laptops into the country without permission. In March 2011, a Cuban court found Gross guilty of subversion and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The court’s decision on Friday marks a low point in relations between Cuba and the US, which has protested Gross’s incarceration.

Some speculate Havana is using Gross as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of several Cuban nationals serving sentences in US prisons for espionage.



Several Jewish-American organizations have been working behind the scenes to bring about Gross’s release. Their involvement has been complicated by fear of jeopardizing the good relations between Cuba’s Jewish community and its government.

“No matter where one falls on the political spectrum with regard to US-Cuba relations, we can all recognize that it is a tragedy for Alan to serve a 15-year prison sentence for his efforts to improve Internet connectivity for the Jewish community in Cuba,” Kahn said.

Last week, The Washington Post called in an editorial for Havana to release Gross, saying it was highly unlikely he was a spy.

“Cuban authorities have portrayed Mr. Gross as a spy involved in an enterprise aimed at undermining the regime,” the paper wrote.

“That seems unlikely in the extreme. In fact, Mr. Gross, a veteran development worker who had minimal command of Spanish, was part of a democratization project of the sort the US government runs in countries all over the world.”

The Anti-Defamation League called on Havana to rescind the court decision.

“We call on the Cuban government to release Mr. Gross immediately on humanitarian grounds and as a gesture of goodwill to the American people,” said Abraham H.

Foxman, ADL national director. “We further urge international leaders who maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba to encourage President Raul Castro to release him.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said the Supreme Court’s ruling was a disappointment and called on the government of Raul Castro to take into consideration the health concerns of Gross’s family.

“We now reiterate our request to the president and urge him to grant clemency on humanitarian grounds as quickly as possible and allow Mr. Gross to be reunited with his family, especially his daughter and mother, who are both battling cancer,” Conference of Presidents Chairman Richard Stone and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said. “We express our support for and solidarity with the entire Gross family during this difficult time.”

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