Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested that he may soon make a decision on whether to grant the release of political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich. He admitted he is the only one in power to resolve the issue but at the same time expresses his uncertainty whether to do so or not. Lukashenka also added if Mikalai Statkevich is to be released it should be done before the election that will take place on 11 October 2015.
Lukashenka pointed out that Statkevich was able to write a petition for pardon but he has refused to do so. Lukashenka commented: “I can release a person if he files a petition for pardon, but he has not done so because he wants to be a hero.” According to some observers, the release of political prisoners depends on recognition of the "elections" by the international community, and specifically Western countries. According to the ruler, the issue about the former presidential candidate is on agenda and will be considered.
EU sanctions in exchange for release political prisoners
The EU has removed 24 people from the EU sanctions lists, which includes visa restrictions and asset freezes . These are ministers or former ministers in the administration of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Even though, some of the sanctions are eased, the EU Council pointed out that the sanctions against Belarus must continue because as long as not all the political prisoners are released as well as the principles of rule of law and democracy have to be improved before any further easing of sanctions. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry called the move a "step in the right direction" towards better relations between Minsk and Brussels.
Doubts over President’s words
Ales Bialiatski, well- known Belarusian human rights activists and the head of Viasna human rights centre, says “one should not believe Lukashenka’s words about Statkevich’s release”. He commented that the statement of the President was constructed according to “fifty-fifty” principle so it does not state any position, hence, only further moves will show the real motives. Ales Bialiatski assumes the move is highly connected with the elections. The elections may be not recognized by the world community unless the candidate from previous election is released from prison. The other reason for such a signal from Lukashenka might be the curtailing of the sanctions list by the EU. The EU now is expecting reactive action and the release of Statkevich might be it.
Opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich was arrested after a major crackdown on the opposition during street protests that followed the flawed presidential elections of 2010. The court found him guilty of organizing a mass riot and sentenced him to 6 years in prison on 26 May 2011 in a high security regime colony. He started serving his term in Shklou colony, but on 12 January 2012 his prison regime was toughened and he was transferred to prison in Mahiliou. On 12 January 2015 he was returned to Shklou colony to continue serving his term. On 4 May 2015, the court decided to send Mikalai Statkevich back to the prison until the end of his term, the official reason being numerous violations of internal regulations of the colony and disobeying the requirements of the colony administration. Statkevich’s lawer said such a situation was created deliberately by the colony’s administration. Mikalai Statkevich is the only former presidential candidate who has been kept behind bars since the presidential election of 2010. Statkevich pleads innocent and refuses to file a petition for pardon to Lukashenka. His release has since then been urged by the EU and the United States. Amnesty International considers Statkevich a prisoner of conscience.
Svaboda, Euro Radio, Belsat