HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba on Saturday sentenced US contractor Alan Gross to 15 years prison for distributing laptops and cellular phones to the island’s Jewish community — a move Washington decried as “another injustice.”
Cuba’s Popular Provincial Tribunal found Gross responsible for “acts against the independence or territorial integrity” of the country, according to a statement read on state-run television.
Gross, 61, was working under contract for the US State Department when he was arrested in late 2009 for distributing the electronic devices to members of the communist-run island’s small Jewish community.
“Today’s sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross’s ordeal,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor in Washington.
“He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more. We urge the immediate release of Mr Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family,” Vietor said.
In their ruling, the Tribunal took into consideration information showing “direct participation of the US contractor in a subversive project by the United States government to try to destroy the revolution.”
The Cuban statement also said that during the trial, the defendant “acknowledged that he had been used and manipulated” by the US Agency for International Development, which financed Gross’s company, the statement read.
Gross, who can appeal the sentence, was originally accused of targeting universities, religious centers and ethnic groups to create “underground communications networks designed to foment provocations against the revolution.”
His family was devastated, Gross’s attorney said.
“At this difficult time for Alan and his family, we again call on the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds,” said lawyer Peter Kahn.
The two-day, closed-door trial in Havana concluded March 5.
The case has chilled a brief warming in US-Cuban relations that followed President Barack Obama’s taking office.
Cuba and the United States have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961.
In the trial, Gross was defended by attorney Nuris Pinero, who also represents five Cubans imprisoned in the United States for the past 12 years on espionage charges.
Cuba recognizes that the five were its agents, but said they were not spying on the United States, rather on anti-Castro groups in Miami planning violent attacks against Cuba.
Washington has rejected trading the jailed Cubans for Gross.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Cuba to release the contractor on Thursday.
“We deplore the injustice toward Alan Gross. We want him home,” Clinton said in her first remarks on the case since the trial concluded.
“He needs to be home with his family immediately,” Clinton told the House Appropriations Committee.
Gross’s wife Judy and attorney Kahn were present in court for the trial, as were US consular officials.
Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009. President Raul Castro said he was acting as an “agent” of Washington distributing sophisticated communications equipment to opponents of the Cuban regime.
Cuban-American US lawmakers voiced dismay at the sentencing.
“The Cuban regime’s 15-year prison sentence for Alan Gross is a deplorable attack on freedom,” Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida congresswoman who chairs the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the sentencing as “a shameless act by a desperate regime.
“This is a regime which will use anything and anyone, including a United States citizen, to wage its propaganda war against all those in Cuba demanding freedom, and all those responsible nations around the world who stand up for the oppressed Cuban people,” Ros-Lehtinen said.