What is the motive behind the sudden release?
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko unexpectedly pardoned six prominent political prisoners almost two months before the presidential polls.
According to media reports, the president pardoned Mikalai Statkevich, Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Evgeniy Vackovich, Artyom Prokopenko, and Yuriy Rubtsov from imprisonment. Mr. Statkevich was a former opposition presidential candidate, and spent nearly five years in prison.
The former Soviet Union country will hold its next presidential election in October, with Lukashenko running for his fifth term.
Background of the six political prisoners
Mikalai Statkevich filed for candidacy last month but election officials turned down his application. Mr. Statkevich was sentenced to a six-year imprisonment in May 2011 for leading a mass protests against Lukashenko’s re-election.
Mr. Mikola Rubsev, one of the freed political prisoners was arrested in 2010 protests for wearing a T-shirt demanding for Lukashenko to go.
The other four men were accused of belonging to an anarchist organization that clashed with the Soviet secret police or the notorious KGB.
US and EU welcome the release of the six political prisoners
In a press statement in Washington DC, Department Spokesperson
John Kirby said the United States welcomes the August 22 release from prison of Mikalai Statkevich, Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Evgeniy Vackovich, Artyom Prokopenko, and Yuriy Rubtsov.
He emphasized that the release of the six political prisoners is a positive development for the people of Belarus and an important step toward normalizing relations with the United States.
“We reiterate our call for the Government of Belarus to restore the political rights of these six and other former political prisoners.” – Mr. Kirby
The European Union also commended Belarus’ release of political prisoners as important progress in its efforts to normalize relations with the West.
The US and EU are known to set the release of political prisoners as a condition for easing economic sanctions. Belarus has been bombarded with sanctions since the time Lukashenko’s government violently suppressed protests during 2010 presidential election.
inhumane treatment of political prisoners
The United States and EU expressed concern credible reports of degrading and inhumane treatment of political prisoners in Belarus.
EU reported that the Belarusian authorities have imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, suppressed non-violent protests, and worked to silence independent voices.
One vital focus of U.S. assistance to Belarus is the development of a civil society and media freedom.
U.S. assistance to Belarus also supports the Belarusian people in achieving a government that respects their democratic rights and fundamental freedoms.
The U.S. assistance is targeting also on areas to promote the opening of space for the free expression of political views.
U.S. announced also an additional $4 million to be used in response to the Government of Belarus’ crackdown on civil society, independent media and the political opposition following the flawed December 2010 presidential election.