HRODNA, Belarus -- Zmitser Dashkevich, the leader of the unregistered Young Front political movement in Belarus, has been released from prison.
Relatives and colleagues, along with journalists, met him at the penitentiary gates in the western city of Hrodna upon his release early on August 28.
Dashkevich, who looked very thin but joyful, told reporters he "feels great" and is ready to continue his political activities.
"Friends, thank you all for greeting me, and for supporting me throughout this entire period," Dashkevich said. "Of course, I do not consider my release some sort of favor granted by the authorities. We all know that one day you're here, the next day you're there [back in prison]. The case of [jailed opposition activist] Uladzimer Yaromenak testifies to that. I plan to carry on all the same activities I have been involved with all these years."
WATCH: Relatives, including wife Nasta, and colleagues and journalists met Zmitser Dashkevich at the penitentiary gates in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna upon his release early on August 28:
Dashkevich also expressed his gratitude to reported, who followed his prison ordeal.
"Both convicts and prison staff follow independent media," Dashkevich said. "I'd like to thank journalists and other people from the Hrodna prison and other prisons I had a chance to meet. Some supported me with a kind word, others made me tea, or shared apples with me. Obviously, I cannot say where or who it was, but these people know it themselves. In time, I will thank them in person."
Dashkevich was sentenced to two years in prison and fellow Youth Front activist Eduard Lobau received a four-year term. They were found guilty in March 2011 of assaulting two people in Minsk a day before the presidential election in December 2010.
The men denied the charges, saying the case was fabricated to bar them from opposition activities on the presidential election day.
Belarus's disputed presidential election on December 19, 2010 resulted in protests and the mass arrests of activists.
Last year, Dashkevich received an additional year in prison for what authorities called a "systematic and aggressive refusal to follow instructions of the penitentiary administration."
He was later transferred to the high security prison in Hrodna. Dashkevich said he refused to follow regulations because the case against him was politically motivated. During his prison term, Dashkevich was regularly placed in solitary confinement.
But he says he received support for his hunger strikes and protests in prisons and labor camps.
"Other fellow prisoners did support me in every way. There have been attempts by administrations of various prisons to incite other inmates against me," Dashkevich said. "Of course, once in jail, out of boredom, some prisoners tend to try to earn themselves a reduction of jail term or something else. One can understand them. If you are shut behind bars for 25 years of your life, you'd do anything the [prison] administration tells you."
Amnesty International had designated Dashkevich and Lobau "prisoners of conscience," who were jailed for their political views.