Belarus Prisoner Release: Same Old Trick
Good news from Belarus is rare, but last weekend president Alexander Lukashenko pardoned six political prisoners. For the pardoned, all serving multi-year prison terms for challenging Belarus’ autocracy, this is, to say the least, a relief, and has been welcomed by local democrats and the international community. Lukashenko has declared his decision an act of “humanity”. But is, in fact, a carefully timed tactical move to sway the European Union at a time of growing domestic and geopolitical pressure.
The question is whether he will succeed this time.
Lukashenko has never been shy of pressuring and jailing, and even disappearing, political opponents. In his long line of crimes against critics, the six released last weekend are but the latest. The most prominent, Mykola Statkevich, ran in the December 2010 presidential elections, and when the poll was rigged to ensure Lukashenko’s re-election, led a peaceful mass protest. Police brutally dispersed the demonstration and arrested some 700 protesters.
Statkevich, and four-dozen other leading democrats, received multi-year prison terms in political show trials. Since then, these prisoners of conscience have been gradually released, but only after being forced to sign humiliating clemency requests.