Imprisoned human rights defender Dr. Óscar Biscet was released by Cuban officials on Friday. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), a leading voice on human rights in Congress and chairman of the human rights subcommittee, has been a leading advocate for Dr. Biscet for almost a decade.
"We rejoice with Óscar and his wife, Elsa Morejón, that they are reunited," Smith said. "Óscar has had serious health problems in prison -- no wonder, given the wretched, life-threatening conditions in which he was held -- and we hope he is able to get the medical attention he needs. We are going to have to remain vigilant on his behalf -- the Cuban government is by no means above re-imprisoning Óscar on the slightest pretext."
Smith has frequently called for Biscet's release on the House floor, in congressional hearings and other forums, and twice nominated Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize. Most recently, in January 2011, Smith led 25 members of Congress in nominating Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize, and played a leading role in the concurrent international movement to nominate Biscet for the prize (other nominators included the prime minister of Hungary and parliamentarians from Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom).
"In prison or out, Óscar deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. If the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognizes such an outstandingly principled human rights defender, unalterably dedicated to non-violent social change, it will point the way toward a constructive future for all the people of Cuba,"said Smith.
In 2010, Smith was featured in the documentary film "Oscar's Cuba", which brought international attention to Biscet's case. Smith and Congressman Frank Wolf (VA-10th) have for years sought to make a humanitarian visit to Cuba to check on Biscet and other political prisoners. Smith said his attempts to travel to Cuba have been thwarted by the Cuban government which has refused the two Congressmen an entry visa. In 2002 Smith launched the Congressional Cuban Political Prisoners Initiative by which members of Congress could "adopt" Cuban political prisoners, in order to more effectively highlight the prisoners' plight; Smith "adopted" Biscet.
Biscet founded the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights in 1997, in collaboration with fellow members of the peaceful opposition movement. He was arrested in 1999 after organizing a protest march and sentenced to three years in prison. Released in November 2002, Biscet was arrested again a month later after meeting with other dissidents and organizing a group to teach people how to defend their human rights. He was then sentenced to 25 years in prison. In recognition of Biscet's fearless advocacy for human rights and democracy in Cuba, in 2007 President Bush awarded Dr. Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom.