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Belarusian Political Prisoners
February 22, 2008 16:20 GMT
Photos by Bymedia.net, epa, and RFE/RL.
Protesters rally for the release of youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich and politician Alyaksandr Kazulin in 2006 - A number of Belarusian prisoners have been freed unexpectedly in recent weeks by court decisions or extraordinary presidential decrees. They include a journalist, a politician, and student activists, but they have one thing in common; all were considered by Western governments to be prisoners of conscience.
Akyaksandr Zdzvizhkou, deputy editor in chief of the "Zhoda" independent newspaper - Akyaksandr Zdzvizhkou was convicted of "inciting racial or religious discord" after his newspaper printed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The Supreme Court ruled to shorten his sentence, allowing him to leave prison on February 22. Zdzvizhkou said his health deteriorated badly during his imprisonment.
Andrey Klimau greets his wife, Tatsyana Klimava, after his release from prison - Andrey Klimau's early release from prison on February 15, on a decree by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, came as a "complete surprise" to him. A former lawmaker, Klimau has had more legal trouble than any other opposition figure, with five cases brought against him and three prison sentences.
Artur Finkevich on trial in the town of Mahilyou in December 2007 - Youth Front leader Artur Finkevich was freed on February 5 from an 18-month sentence that an appeals court judged to be too harsh. He had been sentenced to two years of "light confinement" in a detention facility for spray-painting an opposition slogan on a building. Then he was handed a second term for allegedly breaking the facility's rules.
Youth Front activists protest outside the court as Finkevich stands trial - After his sentence was overturned, Finkevich said that his release was partly due to the efforts of his fellow youth activists, who held frequent demonstrations to demand his freedom.
Zmitser Dashkevich at a Minsk court in November 2006 - Finkevich's fellow Youth Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich was freed on January 23 two months before the end of an 18-month sentence for running an unregistered organization. He said his early release represents "a sort of game with the West," while "there are no signs of liberalization in public life." "Some people are being jailed, and others are being released," he said.
Opposition activist Andrey Kim - While several high-profile prisoners have been freed, others' troubles are just beginning. Andrey Kim was arrested in January for participating in an unsanctioned rally in defense of the rights of small businesses. One civil society activist described the case as Minsk's "revenge for the scare that the entrepreneurs' protest gave them."
Opposition presidential candidates Alyaksandr Kazulin (left) and Alyaksandr Milinkevich at a rally in March 2006 - Many observers wonder whether Alyaksandr Kazulin will be the next in line to be released. A former presidential candidate, Kazulin was arrested during antigovernment demonstrations that followed the March 2006 election, and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for organizing events that disturbed public order.
Alyaksandr Kazulin, his wife Iryna Kazulina (right), and family - President Lukashenka said on February 15 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. But Kazulin's relatives say the terms of the offer are unclear, and could be tantamount to expulsion from Belarus.
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