Former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich and others whom the West called political prisoners would be released only if they applied for a pardon, president Aliaksandr Lukashenka said on Sunday.
“I’ve already said and don’t want to repeat myself, but I’ll put my signature if an application is in place,” Mr Lukashenka told reporters in Minsk after voting in elections for local councils. “If there is no application, neither the [upcoming] world [ice hockey] championship [in Minsk], nor the 70th anniversary of the victory [in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War], nor other things will help. This is my fundamental approach to this, and not only mine. We are a state. We are a nation. They shouldn’t pressurize us. They shouldn’t apply double or triple standards to us and treat us this way. My signature doesn’t determine everything in this regard.”
When asked by a BelaPAN correspondent whether there had been instances of the president pardoning prisoners without them applying for a pardon, Mr Lukashenka said that he had done so many times. “I only don’t know why you are fixed on those few names,” he said. “The president has the right to pardon any person in accordance with a certain procedure. Yes, there have been such instances in the past, but firstly, crimes differ from each other. Secondly, I frequently said to you and your human rights [activists] that you should not heat up the situation. They are guilty and [I suggested that] we should resolve the issue quietly within the country, without a fuss, but you took the issue to an international level and were given an adequate and symmetric response. But if you want, my statement and my proposals remain in force.”
According to human rights centre Viasna (Spring), there are 10 political prisoners in Belarus. They include Mikalai Statkevich, Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Autukhovich, Eduard Lobau, Mikalay Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Andrey Haydukou, Vasil Parfiankou, Yauhen Vaskovich, and Artsiom Prakapenka.
Mikalai Statkevich is the last 2010 presidential candidate to be in prison. The sentence given to Mr Statkevich in 2011 was one of the toughest: six years of imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony. The reason might be explained by the fact that in his election speech Mikalai Statkevich addressed to the current president demanding ‘to give back all that you have stolen’. The authorities are trying to embitter Statkevich’s life even in prison putting him to a disciplinary cell or making him share a ward with an AIDS sufferer. However, the former presidential candidate keeps mantaining his innocence and refuses to ask President Lukashenka for pardon.
In May, 2010 the Supreme Court of Belarus sentenced Mikalai Autukhovich, a former entrepreneur from Vaukavysk, to five years and two months of imprisonment in a medium security penal colony under the Criminal Code’s Article 295, which penalizes the illegal handling of arms, ammunition and explosives, because of five hunting rifle cartridges found in his safe. Human rights defenders note that the sentence might well have been awarded in retaliation for Mikalai Autukhovich’s fighting against public corruption in the region.