The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, or CCDHRN, estimates that at least 71 prisoners are being held on the island for "political reasons or by means of politically imposed procedures," about half as many as were documented a year ago.

The organization said that Cuba's prison population is between 60,000 and 70,000 inmates, the most in Latin America in proportion to the country's 11 million inhabitants, which makes it reasonable to speculate that there are more political prisoners than are known.

The communique, signed by CCDHRN spokesman and dissident Elizardo Sanchez, acknowledged that the number of prisoners of conscience in Cuba has diminished and is far from the 15,000 of 50 years ago, but warned that these figures are uncertain because the regime continues to use an archaic Penal Code that began as a mere copy, practically a plagiarism, of the one used by the old Soviet Union.

The organization said that many political prisoners are in jail as pre-criminal dangers to society, a "legal monster" according to the CCDHRN, which means the prisoners are "essentially innocent," since they are accused of actions or intentions that are not crimes.

This provides authorities with "the basis for very summary trials, with no need for material, documentary or eye-witness evidence, or any other kind," Sanchez said.

The CCDHRN also recalled the case of the 11 former prisoners of conscience of the "Group of 75" - jailed during the repressive Black Spring of 2003 - now out on bail but prevented from leaving the country.

The commission also demanded the release "for humanitarian reasons" of 21 inmates convicted of "crimes against the state," which carries a sentence of 12 to 23 years in prison under "extreme conditions."

The CCDHRN acknowledged that having a complete list of political prisoners is very difficult because the Cuban government is very "closemouthed and opaque" and only "a handful of high officials know the exact numbers."

The Cuban government considers dissidents to be "counterrevolutionaries" and "mercenaries."