Former legislator Andrey Klimau was released from prison on February 15, just six months into a two-year sentence.
Speaking to journalists in Minsk a day after leaving a prison in the Homel region, Klimau said that Lukashenka's February 11 decree ordering his release came as "a complete surprise." He said his hopes for freedom had been dashed by Lukashenka's recent statement that "the issue of political prisoners in Belarus is closed," suggesting that no new amnesties could be expected.
Western governments and international rights groups consistently rank Belarus among the world's worst rights offenders, and the European Union lists the freeing of political prisoners among its chief demands to normalize strained relations with Minsk.
Klimau was sentenced in August to two years in prison for insulting the president and calling for revolution in an article posted on the Internet.
Klimau, who was a legislator in the Supreme Soviet of Belarus in 1995-96, had served two jail stints before his most recent prison term. He spent four years in prison after receiving a six-year sentence in February 1998 on convictions for embezzlement and forgery linked to a construction company he ran; he was then sentenced in June 2005 to 18 months of "restricted freedom" over his role in organizing an opposition demonstration in Minsk.
Klimau is regarded in Western countries as a victim of persecution for his political activities, as are two other high-profile prisoners: former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin and journalist Alyaksandr Zdzvizhkou.
Upon his release, Klimau expressed hope that Kazulin and Zdzvizhkou would also be freed soon.
Kazulin, who ran in the March 2006 presidential election, was arrested during antigovernment demonstrations that followed the polls and was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for organizing events that disturbed the public order.
On February 15, Lukashenka said that he had offered Kazulin a temporary release from prison so that he could accompany his wife, Iryna, who is suffering from cancer, to Germany for medical treatment. He said he had made the offer following EU officials' appeals for clemency for Kazulin but that the prisoner had refused to leave prison.
Kazulin's daughter, Volha, denied that her father had turned down any offer for a temporary release. She added that if Lukashenka had in fact made such an offer, the objective could only have been to expel Kazulin from Belarus. "Our father will never leave the country in any case," she said.