NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cuban authorities arrested more than 30 people in the days leading up to International Human Rights Day this week, a New York-based human rights watchdog said Thursday. Human Rights Watch cited press reports and Cuban human rights groups as saying many of those arrested were trying to travel to Havana for marches on December 10, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The Cuban government should immediately and unconditionally free the dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained in recent days," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government, but Havana labels dissidents "mercenaries" in the pay of the United States, which has maintained sanctions against the Communist-run island for more than four decades. Washington openly works with Cuban dissidents. The statement said some of those arrested had since been released and it was not known how many remained in detention. Rights groups say Cuban authorities have in the past briefly held dissidents planning protests.
Around 30 family members and supporters of dissidents jailed since 2003 marched through Havana Wednesday to mark the rights day. Another planned protest in the capital was canceled, but it was unclear why. Havana recently signed two U.N. accords on civil and political rights and the European Union in June voted to lift sanctions imposed on Cuba after the 2003 arrest of 75 dissidents. Around 50 are still in jail. Foreign Minister Felipe Perez said Wednesday Cuba would undergo a review by a U.N. rights council earlier next year. The local Cuban Commission for Human Rights, which is illegal but tolerated, estimates there are around 200 people in prison for political reasons. The group said Wednesday around 50 people were detained this week to prevent them attending events and meetings in Havana.
(Reporting by Claudia Parsons in New York and Patrick Markey in Havana, Editing by Anthony Boadle)