European leaders have welcomed last weekend’s release of ex-presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau and his aide Zmitser Bandarenka but tempered their statements with demands that Minsk release other dissenters and respect their rights.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has hailed the two released as «prominent symbols for the tireless work and commitment of many for a democratic and European Belarus».
«I call on the authorities of Belarus to release unconditionally now also all other remaining political prisoners and to remove all restrictions on the enjoyment of their civil and political rights,» Ashton said in Sunday’s statement. «This would certainly contribute to possibilities for moving towards improved relations between the EU and Belarus,» she stressed.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle called Sannikau’s and Bandarenka’s releases «a fundamental first step one would naturally expect — especially in a situation when the head of state promised to pardon those who asked for it». But Mr. Füle takes the view that «it is against the principles of modern Europe and against human dignity to force people to admit what they never did, when their only ‘crime’ was expressing their own opinion.»
He added: «The EU has repeatedly stressed that all political prisoners must be released and rehabilitated, only then we can consider normalization of the relations with Minsk.»
The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz issued the following statement on the release of two political prisoners in Belarus:
«I welcome the release of former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau and political activist Zmitser Bandarenka. This is good news, but sixteen months too late. These freedom fighters should not have been imprisoned in the first place.»
He called on the Belarusian authorities to release all remaining political prisoners, including another presidential candidate, Mikalay Statkevich and Ales Bialiatski, Head of the human rights centre “Viasna”.
«It is appalling to think that in the 21st century Europe, political prisoners still exist. As stated by the European Parliament on several occasions, the unconditional release and full rehabilitation of all prisoners of conscience is a necessary condition for resuming dialogue with the Belarusian authorities,» the EU Commissioner added.