Belarusian presidential candidate Sannikov “celebrated” birthday in jail
BRATISLAVA -- Andrei Sannikov, the former Belarusian presidential candidate and the leader of the European Belarus movement, “celebrated” his 57th birthday in Minsk’s “Amerikanka” KGB prison yesterday. He is awaiting trial together with more than 40 political prisoners who were charged after the brutal suppression of a mass demonstration against the rigged presidential elections of December 19, 2010. He may serve up to 15 years behind bars in one of Alexander Lukashenka’s most feared high-security prisons. His spokesman, Alexandr Atroschenko, was already sentenced to four years last week while Andrei’s wife Irina Khalip, a noted journalist, has been temporarily released under house arrest pending her own trial.
Their three-year-old son Danil watches what is going on with bemusement and fear. Andrei, an educated and soft-spoken diplomat, who left his position as deputy foreign minister in protest of Lukashenka’s autocratic rule in 1996, has emerged as one of the Belarusian dictator’s bravest opponents. In the recent presidential election campaign, he spoke passionately of patriotism, national pride, quest for freedom and the European aspirations of his beloved Belarus. He was not afraid to name-and-shame Lukashenka and his immoral behavior, which has led to his country’s international isolation. Andrei was very well aware of the prize he may pay for this.
During the demonstration before Christmas, he was knocked to the ground and severely beaten by the riot police and imprisoned. We know very little about Andrei’s current state of mind or his health since neither family members nor his lawyer have been allowed to meet him. Letters of communication have been severely limited. Moreover, his lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, was stripped of his membership to Minsk’s Bar Association last week, which means that Andrei is currently without legal representation. When Andrei’s mother tried to give him a parcel with birthday sweets a few days ago, she was expelled from the prison. On top of all this, there is growing evidence that political prisoners have been tortured.
Recent testimony from another charged presidential candidate, Ales Michalevic, has disclosed shocking medieval torture practices in the Amerikanka prison. Andrei Sannikov has worked tirelessly in the field of human rights in the last two decades. His main platforms have been the Charter 97 movement and its website and the European Belarus movement. He has also participated in numerous protest activities at home, and through his writing and speaking at international events. He was depicted many times holding portraits of political prisoners or “disappeared” opponents of Lukashenka’s tyranny. Today, I hold his portrait high and protest against barbarism on the doorstep of the European Union. Without international solidarity and pressure, this son of Belarus and Europe will not make it through.
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