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Belarusian Opposition Activist Ties The Knot In Prison

Anastasia Palazhanka brandishes her passport in an undated photo.
Anastasia Palazhanka brandishes her passport in an undated photo.
One of Zmitser Dashkevich's most cherished dreams came true this week when the jailed Belarusian opposition activist was finally able to wed his longtime girlfriend, fellow activist Nasta Palazhanka.

The pair had been trying to marry since Dashkevich was taken into custody two years ago, but their petitions had been turned down one after the other.

They tied the knot on December 26.

"They stamped my passport without any problem. Then a marriage registry office worker accompanied me to the Hrodno prison, where I was taken to the so-called recreation room," Palazhanka tells RFE/RL. "They brought Dashkevich in five minutes later. He was extremely happy -- he probably also didn't believe this would finally happen. The first thing he said was, 'This can't be true.'"

WATCH Palazhanka tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service about her prison nuptials (in Belarusian)

Staff at the high-security prison gave the newlyweds 10 minutes together before leading Dashkevich back to his cell.

The couple had not seen each other since his detention in December 2010.

Palazhanka shows her marriage certificate on December 26.
Palazhanka shows her marriage certificate on December 26.
Dashkevich, the leader of the youth opposition movement Young Front, was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison on charges of hooliganism after an alleged brawl on the eve of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's disputed reelection.

In August this year, a court found him guilty of repeatedly disobeying prison rules and extended his jail term until August 2013.

The international community strongly condemned Lukashenka's regime for Dashkevich's jailing. Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Dashkevich's married status does not give him the right to another prison encounter with his wife. The newlyweds are now, however, entitled to one two-hour conversation through a glass window before his planned release.

Despite their wedding's austere setting, the pair appeared to be in high spirits during their brief prison nuptials.

"Our witnesses were prison employees," Palazhanka says. "Dashkevich joked that they were now almost relatives, and everyone laughed."

Palazhanka says she took her husband's surname and is now formally Mrs. Dashkevich.

"Before, authorities had only one Dashkevich to deal with," she quips, "now they have two!"

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