UN calls for release of all political prisoners
At least 13 political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus, two weeks after the release of the former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau.
Sunday, 22 April 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19, Index on Censorship and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information
Andrei SannikauFormer presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, left, and his authorized representative, Coordinator of the "European Belarus" campaign, Dzmitry Bandarenka, below, were released from detention on April 14-15 2012.
Sannikau, the founder of the Charter 97 pro-democracy group, had been jailed since the crackdown on opposition in Europe’s last dictatorship in December 2010. He claims that he was tortured while in prison.
13 more political prisoners still behind bars
Despite Sannikau and Bandarenka now being on the other side of jail bars, Belarus is still far away from freedom.
Natalia Koliada, co-founder of the acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre and campaign group Free Belarus Now, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled our old friend Andrei Sannikau has been released and can go home to see his wife and young son.
Our campaigning will continue until all the political prisoners are released from Belarus’s jails. There are still over a dozen political prisoners held by Luka — none of them as high profile as Andrei. They must not be forgotten”.
International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) say that therDzmitry Bandarenkae are at least 13 Belarusian political prisoners – namely, Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Autukhovich, Ales Bialiatski, Dzmitry Dashkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Siarhei Kavalenka, Eduard Lobau, Artsiom Prakapenka, Pavel Seviarynets, Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Syramalotau and Yauhen Vaskovich – are still being held in prisons and other places of detention.
UN calls to release jailed political prisoners and rights activists
On April 20 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the Belarusian authorities to begin a dialogue with the political opposition and "to unconditionally release all remaining prisoners who are serving sentences for exercising their fundamental human rights". The OHCHR also called for the immediate release of other jailed rights activists.
“We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all political prisoners and withdraw the charges against them. We are convinced that prosecutions over the events of 19 December 2010 are not in keeping with international standards for a fair trial, and the sentences passed were politically motivated. We also call for an immediate moratorium on the use of the death sentence”, the INGOs statement says.
No rehabilitation – released still criminals
Andrei Aliaksandrau, vice-chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, says Sannikau and Bandarenka are still considered to be criminals. Officially they were freed as a result of a pardon they had asked President Aliaksandr Lukashenka for. On April 16 Sannikau told journalists that he would have to spend eight more years under police supervision.
Sannikau's wife, well-known Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip, was not able to meet her husband when he arrived at Minsk train station Sunday night: herself being sentenced after the anti-government protests of 19 December 2010, she must obey a daily curfew of 10pm. So, freedom in Belarus is quite a relative notion.
Quite a number of Belarusian analysts have pointed out that the release of Sannikau and Bandarenka was the result of solidarity actions within the country’s civil society, campaigning led by international organisations, and European Union sanctions (namely a travel ban for Belarusian officials responsible for human rights violations and targeted economic restrictions against some enterprises considered to be “purses of the regime”).
Michael Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship, noted: “The release shows that targeted sanctions against Belarus’s elite are effective”.
“On 23 April European foreign ministers are due to discuss further sanctions. With Lukashenka also fearing the country may be barred from hosting the Ice Hockey World Championship in 2014, it is clear he is in a mood to compromise”, he added.
According to Aliaksandrau, Europe shows quite a strong stance on this situation.
“The Chairman of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and EU Commissioner, Štefan Füle, all welcomed Sannikau and Bandarenka’s release. But they pointed out it is only the first step, as all the political prisoners must be released and also rehabilitated, with a clear understanding the authorities of Belarus can fulfil the former, but will never agree on the latter”, the BAJ vice-chairman said.
Opposition forces recovering after severe crackdown
Andrei Dmitriev, one of the leaders of Tell the Truth campaign and a former political prisoner himself, wrote on his Facebook page on April 16 that he was surprised to see so few people coming to meet Sannikau in Minsk: half of the small crowd that gathered in front of the train station on Sunday night were journalists.
According to Dmitriev, very few leaders of other oppositional forces were there to greet their colleague. The opposition is still recovering from the severe crackdown after December 2010 with continuous nightmare of searches, interrogations, courts and torture that followed. It surely needs to unite forces and summon their strengths to prove the regime is wrong thinking the democratic movement of Belarus is crashed.
HRH London, based on Article 19, Index on Censorship and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information
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