2011 08/09

Human Rights Center Viasna


Minsk, 8 September 2011

If there are political prisoners, a dialogue is impossible. There is a great risk of taking new political hostages by the authorities if the political system is not transformed.

At the educational council in Minsk on 29 August 2011 Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated he was ready to hold a wide round table with representatives of the EU and Russia, with all other sides irrespective of their affiliation with political camps.

The Human Rights Center Viasna makes a public statement of its position concerning the continuing discussion about the conditions, the format and the participants of the negotiation process and the demands that can be put on its agenda.

In 2008, there were events similar to the current situation: the release of political prisoners was a condition for dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the European Union. Political prisoners were released from prison within several days. For two months in Belarus there were no persons who were convicted for political reasons (though 10 people were serving personal restraint terms). The condition to introduce a moratorium on political convictions was implemented just for a short period of time.

In subsequent years, in Belarus there were no days when no political opponents were kept in prison.

The culmination of the repression were the events of 19 December 2010, when more than 700 people were arrested for participation in a peaceful protest action. 43 persons, including 6 presidential candidates, were charged with organizing and participating in a “riot” or “organization of group activities that breach public order”, 13 more people were suspects, including one candidate for president. The fundamental process rights of the detainees, including the right to legal defense, were violated. Some of them stated about the use of torture towards them.

The authorities exercised a concerted pressure on the lawyers who defended figurants of politically motivated criminal cases, as a result of which a number of well-known Belarusian lawyers were deprived of their licenses and expelled from the bar associations.

At present, 20 political prisoners are kept in prison, including three presidential candidates – Andrei Sannikau , Mikalai Statkevich and Dzmitry Uss, as well as the head of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski; 11 are people serving criminal sentences not involving imprisonment, including two candidates for president – Uladzimir Nialikliayeu and Vital Rymasheuski.

13 defendants in the criminal case concerning the “19 December mass riot” have been granted parole and released from jail during the recent weeks. The criminal prosecution of 5 accused was stopped as well. At the same time there began the discussion of the possibility of the dialogue.

The Human Rights Center Viasna believes that it is impossible to start negotiations without an immediate and unconditional release and full rehabilitation of all political prisoners, including those sentenced to personal restraint, probation or a suspended sentence. The Human Rights Center Viasna considers these demands not as a condition for a dialogue, but a condition for its beginning, without the implementation of which it is simply impossible.

We insist that the conditions for a possible dialogue must be issues of systemic changes that would liquidate the possibility of holding new political hostages, namely reaching an agreement on a number of systemic and necessary reforms in the area of ​​fundamental civil rights and liberties: freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of speech and expression, the electoral law. The negotiation process should be aimed at concrete results in the field of democratization and free elections, including elections of President of the Republic of Belarus.

If the authorities demonstrate a lack of the political will to holding real negotiations aimed at democratizing the country, it will witness that Lukashenka’s regime plays its usual political games. In this case, the Human Rights Center Viasna calls on all activists of the political opposition and civil society not to participate in such imitation of negotiations.

Only real steps for democratization of the country and holding free elections are evidence of systemic, irreversible changes ensuring that the country will not have any political prisoners in the future.

Zmitser Bandarenka nominated for Sakharov prize

The coordinator of European Belarus civil campaign, Zmitser Bandarenka, has been nominated for one of the world’s most prestigious human rights prizes, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The candidature of the political prisoner was proposed by Polish member of Parliament Marek Migalski.

The Sakharov Prize was established in 1988 when the academician was alive. The award is given annually for “activity in the sector of human rights and liberties, respect for international legislation and promoting democracy”.
Nominees for the Sakharov Prize are proposed by groups of the European Parliament and groups of parliamentary members, who are to collect at least 40 signatures to support their candidate.

Anatoly Marchenko, who died in a Soviet prison in 1986, was the first person to receive the award on the initiative of Sakharov. Then Nelson Mandela was awarded. Among the recent prize winners are Chinese dissident Hu Jia, who was not able to attend the awarding ceremony because he was in prison, and Memorial, a Russian society.

Zmitser Bandarenka is a well-known Belarusian oppositionist and human rights activist. In 1995-1996, he works for independent radio station Radio 101.2 FM, which was closed by the authorities. He is among the founders of Charter’97 initiative and a coordinator of European Belarus civil campaign. Zmitser was an election agent of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau in the 2010 elections. Bandarenka was arrested on December 20 after a big demonstration in Minsk against the fraudulent presidential elections. On April 27, he was sentenced to two years in a penal colony.

The human rights activist underwent a serious spinal surgery in prison. He was not permitted to have a rehabilitation course and was transferred to a penal colony on a stretcher. There’s high probability that Bandarenka may be disabled for the rest of his life without medical care in prison. He refuses to apply for a pardon to illegitimate head of state Lukashenka.

Source: spring96.org


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