Leading Cuban dissident released from jail on house arrest

Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country's largest dissident group, sits at UNPACU's headquarter in Santiago de Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) - Leading Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said he was released from jail on Friday, six months after his arrest, but sentenced to 4-1/2 years of house arrest after a court ruled him guilty of assault - a charge he denies.

Speaking by phone from the city of Santiago de Cuba where he lives, some 500 miles east of Havana, Ferrer told Reuters he would not comply with one of the conditions of his house arrest: that he refrain from political activism.

"I feel like I have more energy and strength than ever to continue fighting for the democratization of Cuba," said the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), one of the country’s largest and most active opposition groups.

Cuba calls Ferrer a U.S.-financed counterrevolutionary but says was not arrested for his political views. Critics say the government invents common crimes to impute to its opponents so it can silence them while claiming not to have political prisoners.

Ferrer said the Santiago de Cuba court told him earlier on Friday he had been found guilty of the charges of abducting and assaulting a man and had ordered him on house arrest.

The case has earned Cuba much criticism from global rights organizations, the European Union and the U.S. government who had all called for Ferrer’s release.

Ferrer was one of 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 during a nationwide crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was released on parole in 2011 and soon after formed UNPACU.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by David Gregorio)