Filed at 12:36 p.m. ET
HAVANA (AP) -- The United States joined European nations in condemning Cuba's communist government over the death of a jailed dissident after a long hunger strike, saying on Wednesday that his case shines a spotlight on the island's incarceration of some 200 political prisoners.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, jailed since 2003 on charges including disrespecting authority, died Tuesday at a hospital in the capital. Fellow dissidents say he had been on a weekslong hunger strike, becoming the first imprisoned opposition figure to die in such a protest in nearly four decades.
''The death of Orlando Zapata symbolizes the commitment of the Cuban people to liberty and dignity and is an admirable example of dedication for democrats throughout the world,'' he said.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed ''dismay'' at the death of Orlando Zapata and said Paris had called on Cuba to release him.
The younger Almeida has run afoul of authorities for some time, most recently in November when he was briefly jailed. He has been petitioning the government for permission to travel to the United States for treatment for a painful, progressive form of spinal arthritis.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the Associated Press that Zapata Tamayo was arrested in 2003 and held for months without charge before being sentenced to three years in prison in his native Holguin province for disrespecting police authority.
As of January, Sanchez's commission counted 201 political prisoners in Cuban jails. Cuba says it holds none.
Associated Press reporters Will Weissert and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana, Jorge Sainz in Madrid, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Robert Wielaard in Brussels contributed to this report.