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Freed Belarusian Political Prisoner Arrives In Minsk

Statkevich Released From Belarusian Prisoni
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August 23, 2015
Former Belarusian presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich was released from prison after being held for nearly five years. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka pardoned him and five others on August 22. All were regarded by rights organizations as political prisoners. (RFE/RL's Belarus Service)
WATCH: Mikalay Statkevich Released From Prison
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Former Belarusian presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich has arrived in Minsk hours after a surprise release from prison where he had been held for nearly five years.

Statkevich -- who was jubilantly greeted at the eastern Minsk train station by dozens of relatives, friends, opposition leaders, and other supporters -- was pardoned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and released on August 22 from prison along with five others, all of whom were regarded by rights organizations as political prisoners.

Statkevich and his wife, Maryna Adamovich, were showered with flowers and patriotic chants as he spoke with reporters.

Lukashenka issued an order earlier on August 22 that said "based on the principle of humanism" he had decided to pardon and release from prison Statkevich, Mikalay Dedkov, Ihar Olinevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsyom Prokopenko, and Yury Rubtsov.

The release of the six prisoners comes just two months before the presidential election, due to be held on October 11.

Statkevich said in Minsk that he was, of course, very happy and relieved to be out of prison and overjoyed to see his friends and family.

He said there are "no good options" for the opposition ahead of the upcoming election, adding that it will be difficult to take part in the election but that it would also be bad to boycott it. 

When asked who he supported in the election, Statkevich said: "definitely not Lukashenka."

He said he had worked out a plan for the presidential election if he was going to be in prison, but now that he is no longer incarcerated he would have to come up with a new scenario on how to deal with the vote.

Statkevich cannot be a candidate in the election as the deadline for submitting the 100,000 signatures in support of a candidacy was August 21.

Statkevich was detained and jailed after the 2010 presidential election, in which was a candidate, and was sentenced to six years in prison on May 26, 2011 for "organizing mass disturbances."

Statkevich had been detained while on his way to a peaceful rally in central Minsk after the results of the presidential election had been announced.

The rally was organized by opposition parties and their supporters to protest the results of the election, which they claim had been rigged in favor of Lukashenka.

Statkevich rejected the charge against him and said his prosecution was politically motivated because of his opposition activities.​

The release of the six prisoners comes just two months before the presidential election, due to be held on October 11.

The EU had also stated that the freeing of the political prisoners was the main prerequisite for any kind of normalization of relations between Brussels and Minsk. 

Belarusian political analyst Yury Chavusau told RFE/RL that Lukashenka released the political prisoners in an effort to either get Western countries to accept the upcoming election as legitimate or to at least be less critical of the result than they have in the past.  

Lukashenka has been the authoritarian ruler of Belarus since 1994 and will be running on October 11 for a fifth term as president.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has agreed to send long-term observers to Belarus beginning on August 26, the Belarusian Central Election Commission announced on August 21.

Anatol Prokopenko, the father of Artsyom Prokopenko, said his son had called him briefly to say that he would be home on August 23.

Artsyom Prokopenko is a member of the anarchist movement and was sentenced on May 18, 2011 to seven years at a penal colony for "malicious hooliganism."

Valyantsina Alinevich, the mother of Ihar Alinevich, said she will believe her son has been released when she is able to hug him.

She said she's "very happy" and wants to "thank everyone for their support and solidarity" during the two years Ihar had been jailed.

Valyantsina Alinevich says she has no idea why her son is being released at this time, and called it "such a noble gesture, uncharacteristic of our authorities."

Tatsyana Karatkevich, a candidate for the presidential election, told RFE/RL that the release is the "best news possible" and said she is very happy for the families, friends, and relatives of those six who will be returning to their homes.

She said the release means that Lukashenka has "made a step towards the European Union" that she believes is related to the country's "difficult economic situation." 

Karatkevich said it is "important that in the future we do not have political prisoners" and that the upcoming presidential election "is held fairly and openly."

With reporting by AFP

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