Belarusian authorities use pardons to save face, human rights defender claims

Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Vyasna” Valyantsin Stefanovich. Photo: Deutsche Welle

Valyantsin Stefanovich, Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Vyasna,” has spoken with the Deutsche Welle newspaper regarding the information that political prisoners were offered to write a petition for clemency.

According to Mr. Stefanovich, human rights defenders have a principled position: all political prisoners, without exception, must be released.

“We believe that there should be a broad amnesty and everything should be formalized by law on amnesty, namely political. For example, in neighboring Russia, such political amnesties have been applied several times.”

According to Stefanovich, it may be the first step to de-escalate the situation in the country, but it must not turn into a trade and release of political prisoners.

The human rights activist says that the Belarusian authorities should stop repressions and pressure.

“We see persecution every day, the laws are getting tougher. If they want to convince the West to have a détente, they must stop the previously initiated cases and not create new ones. Otherwise, how will it look: we release some people and still imprison others?”

Stefanovich argues that Belarus is now repeating the situation of 2011.

“It is no accident that on the eve of these events there was a meeting between Yury Vaskrasenski and Uladzimir Makey, where they discussed a broad amnesty for those convicted on the events of May 2020. I think that this process is connected with a threat of tougher sanctions of the EU and the U.S. sanctions coming into force,” said the lawyer.

Former political prisoner, historian Dzmitry Drozd holds the same opinion: “I said 3-4 months ago that this scenario would happen, it’s very convenient for Lukashenka. He took hostages, and then released them – and Europe lifted sanctions, everyone is happy and satisfied. Now he will do the same thing, only he took 10 times more hostages.”

“This way of solving it – using pardon – is used by the Belarusian authorities to “save face.” The logic of the authorities is clear: these opposition activists understand everything, asked to release them, so I let them go,” says Stefanovich and clarifies that not everyone would obviously agree to such a decision. “For Babaryka, Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouski it’s a matter of principle, they would never agree to it.”