Today a political prisoner Alyaksandr Zdzvizhkou has been released. The journalist has become the sixth prisoner of conscience released over the last month. Doors of oppositionists’ prisons have opened thanks to principled actions of the US and the EU, as well as the campaign of solidarity by the democratic forces. In December 2007 the US imposed sanctions against the largest Belarusian monopolist “Belneftekhim”, while the EU for more than a year stuck to its coordinated policy known as 12 recommendations of the EU.
Alyaksandr Zdzvizhkou was released on the next day after the European Parliament adopted a resolution with a clear and definite message – Belarus’ rapprochement with the EU is possible only after release of political prisoners, access of oppositionists to mass media and fair election in the country.
First political prisoners were released in January 2008, soon after the US imposed sanctions against the state-run Belneftekhim. Unexpectedly for everyone, prison clothes were taken off by Andrei Klimau, Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich, Mikalay Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau. The decision on Zdzvizhkou was expected by everyone. Considering of the cassational appeal by the Supreme Court was a good reason to reverse a sentence and release the journalist imprisoned for publishing cartoons.
None of the released political prisoners appealed for pardon, none of them admitted guilt. But the fact remains the same: they have been released. Moreover, Andrei Klimau was taken outside the colony and put on a train to Minsk after Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally issued decree on his pardon.
The remaining prisoners of conscience in Belarus are Alyaksandr Kazulin and Andrei Kim. The regime was spinning intrigues around release of Kazulin. As usual, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was the first to give it away. “The matter was that his wife is ill and the EU ambassadors addressed me. It can happen to anybody, things do happen, we all are human. I agreed – let him accompanied his wife. We helped her as we could. Once we offered to send her to Germany. She may be treated in Germany, he needs to follow his wife,” A. Lukashenka noted during his visit to Vitsebsk.
As told by the Kazulins family, in reality the regime offered the political prisoner to flee to Germany and not to return to Belarus “for a certain period of time”. Kazulin refused. Most likely, the offer had been made in a form which couldn’t be accepted.
Later officials hurried to make excuses certainly. Once again they have been let down by Lukashenka. Those who are trying to carry out negotiations with the EU now, had to go hot and cold, trying to explain Lukashenka’s statements to the Europeans. The deputy head of the presidential administration Pyatkevich tried to catch a runaway train, she explained something, spoke of humanism, but nobody believed or listened…
It is understandable that it troubles them to release innocent people, but if this would happen, it would bring hope for imminent changes to the society. The whole world is waiting when Alyaksandr Kazulin and Andrei Kim, a young activist detained during one of the rallies of small businessmen, would be released from prison.
During the recent meeting with Belarusian journalists in Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer stated that the US welcomes release of political prisoners in Belarus. Undoubtedly, it is a positive sign, but from the other hand participants of entrepreneurs’ demonstrations are arrested and opposition leaders are under pressure. Such activity must be stopped. No country should make any concessions to Belarus until all political prisoners are released, David Kramer said at the meeting with Belarusian journalists in Washington.
Last week David Kramer met with the Charter’97 coordinator Zmitser Bandarenka and a member of the organizing committee of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Uladzimer Kobets. “The US Government has focused its attention on three issues of democratization of Belarus: repressions ceasing, release of all political prisoners, access of opposition representatives to mass media and freedom of speech, and free election. As said by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, release of all political prisoners can become only the first step in normalization of the two countries’ relations, but the US would welcome such a decision of the Belarusian authorities. The US is looking forward to release of the rest of the political prisoners, especially of Alyaksandr Kazulin. The US politician asked to convey his personal message to each of the prisoners of conscience who had been released,” Zmitser Bandarenka said after he meeting.
Release of all political prisoners is indeed the first strep possible for the authorities on the way of democratization. Then disbanding of rallies should be stopped, as well as arrests of hundreds of people only for their exercising their right for peaceful protest. Censorship in mass media should be banned, dissemination of the free press should be allowed; opposition should get access to the television, and finally free election should be held in the country.
All these actions are main conditions for development of relations of Belarus with the civilized world. The US has many times told about that. The same was confirmed by the resolution of the European parliament yesterday. “There won’t be any concessions,” the European parliament deputies say.
All this is possible and not as difficult as it may seem to the authorities. The 14 years of dictatorship have demonstrated that repressions do not save the regime. The nation does not bow the neck, while the regime is getting more and more isolated. And if today the recommendations of the EU will not be accepted and a hand not extended to opposition that had offered a dialogue, against the background of the increasing aggression by Russia the situation may get irremediable.
“The resolution of the European Parliament underlines those steps which have been done by the Belarusian regime in order to start rebuilding relations with Europe. I think this is a rather clear signal from the united Europe, which shows the readiness to follow this path. The resolution justly notes those problems which exist in the relations of the EU and Belarus now, and which would hinder the further progress. Speaking about the political prisoners, the process of releasing all of them hasn’t finished yet. Alyaksandr Kazulin and Andrei Kim are still in prison; and only after the term “political prisoners” itself would disappear from our life, we would be able to move on,” the international coordinator of the Charter’97, a member of the organizing committee of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov believes.
According to the diplomat, everything becomes possible thanks to the campaign of solidarity of he democratic forces, which highest points are Days of Solidarity on the 16th day of every month; and thanks to the support to this campaign of solidarity by the international democratic community, Belarusian diaspora, prominent public persons and politicians.
“It is very important to stress the coordination of the EU and the US actions on release of political prisoners. Without the US’ demonstrating a seriousness of approach to the human rights problem, the process of releasing the political prisoners would extend over a longer period. For today one cannot fail to observe that the Belarusian regime is making certain steps towards the EU. The EU notices these steps, but in order to speak about considerable changes in the policy of the Belarusian regime, they should send an unambiguous signal in the sphere of freedom of speech and freedom of election. It could be predicted that advance in this direction would help Belarus to avoid, among other things, economic difficulties. And on the contrary, if the existing processes would be shut down, Belarus would appear in even more difficult situation then today, as a hope for a possibility of cooperation with the Belarusian regime would be finally undermined,” Sannikov is convinced.