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Swiss-Belarusian Dual Citizen Released From Prison In Belarus

Natalia Hersche is shown being detained during a protest in Minsk in September 2020.
Natalia Hersche is shown being detained during a protest in Minsk in September 2020.

A Swiss-Belarusian dual citizen, Natalia Hersche, who was recognized as a political prisoner after she was sentenced in Belarus over participation in a protest rally, has been released and left the country for Switzerland.

The president of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, tweeted on February 18 that Hersche had been released after spending 17 months in prison in Belarus.

"She was met by her brother and the Swiss Ambassador to Belarus [Christine Honegger-Zolotukhin] and returned back to Switzerland. I am glad that the diplomatic efforts of Switzerland paid off," Cassis said in the tweet.

Hersche, who took part in a mass protest against official results of a disputed August 2020 presidential poll in Belarus, was sentenced in December 2020 to 30 months in prison after a court in Minsk found her guilty of "violently resisting police."

Hersche rejected the charge and pleaded not guilty.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

Hersche is one of hundreds who have faced trials linked to mass protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, following the vote in which Lukashenka claimed reelection, even though many Belarusians say the poll was rigged.

The protests were met with the sometimes violent detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during the widening security crackdown.

While in prison, the 52-year-old Hersche three times rejected proposals by Belarusian authorities for her to officially seek clemency from Lukashenka because it would have meant admitting guilt.

She was placed in solitary confinement several times while in prison. Last month, Hersche, who was recognized as a political prisoner by the Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center, went on a four-day hunger strike to protest against prison conditions.

Swiss diplomats had demanded that Belarusian authorities release her.

Hersche was born in Belarus in October 1969 as Natallya Kasyan. She moved to Switzerland in 2009 where she married a Swiss citizen, Robert Staeheli.

One year after she was handed the prison sentence, her husband filed for divorce.

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