(JTA) — Cuban prosecutors will seek a 20-year prison sentence for American Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor that the State Department says was assisting Cuban Jews.
Gross is accused of "Acts Against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State," Reuters reported, citing a Feb. 4 report by Cuban state media via a government-run website.
The charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence; he could have faced the death penalty according to Cuban law, Reuters reported. The report said a trial date will be set "soon" and that U.S. diplomats have been informed of the charges.
Cuban authorities detained Gross on Dec. 3, 2009 on his way out of the country, saying he was a spy.
Gross’ family and State Department officials say he was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s Jewish community of about 1,500 to communicate with other Jewish communities through the Internet.
The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Cuban law prohibits bringing satellite phone equipment into the country without a permit.
Gross’ lawyer, Peter Kahn, issued a statement following the announcement of the charges calling on Cuba to free his client for time served. The statement said the fact that the case is moving forward, after Gross has spent 14 months in a Cuban prison, is a positive development.
"However, the charges announced today by the Cuban authorities against him demonstrate, once again, that Alan is caught in the middle of a long-standing political dispute between Cuba and the United States," the statement said. "Each time Alan traveled to Havana, he declared everything that was required by Cuban customs authorities. Never did the Cuban authorities raise concerns about what he brought with him.
"Alan holds great affection for the Cuban people and culture, and neither his presence nor actions in Cuba were ever meant to, or in fact did, pose any threat or danger to the Cuban government."
Gross reportedly is being held in a military hospital; he is suffering from health problems and is reported to have lost 90 pounds.