(RFE/RL) -- A Cuban political prisoner has died after a lengthy hunger strike to demand better prison conditions.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, died on February 23 at a Havana hospital after 85 days on hunger strike.
Cuba's illegal but tolerated Human Rights Commission said Zapata Tamayo was protesting poor treatment in the island's prisons. The group's director, Elizardo Sanchez, said it was the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban opposition figure starved himself to death.
Laura Pollan is a member of the movement The Ladies in White, consisting of relatives of jailed dissidents. At a symbolic wake she held in her Havana home, Pollan said her group was holding the Cuban government responsible for the death.
"He wasn't a murderer. He wasn't a thief. He wasn't a rapist. He was sincerely a young man who wanted a better future for Cuba, a fighter for human rights," Pollan said. "He was a man who wished for something else for Cuba. However, the government didn't understand that."
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat) of Florida, which is home to a large Cuban community, said in a statement that Zapata Tamayo's death was "a sad reminder of the tragic cost of oppression and a dictatorship that devalues human life."
'Prisoner Of Conscience'
Zapata Tamayo was not among the island's best-known dissidents. He had been in prison since 2003 serving a sentence of at least 25 years for the crimes of disrespect, public disorder, and resistance against the communist government.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International had listed Zapata as one of 58 "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba.
The Human Rights Commission says there are about 200 political prisoners still held in Cuba, about one-third less than when Raul Castro took over as president from his brother Fidel. Cuba designates prisoners of conscience as mercenaries sympathetic to the United States.
According to the Miami newspaper "El Nuevo Herald," the last political prisoner to die on hunger strike in Cuba was Pedro Luis Boitel, a poet and student leader, who died in 1972.
compiled from agency reports