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Belarusian Opposition Leader's Wife Appeals To Russia's First Ladies

Iryna Khalip (right) with jailed husband Andrey Sannikau and their son Daniil.
Iryna Khalip (right) with jailed husband Andrey Sannikau and their son Daniil.
MINSK -- The wife of jailed Belarusian opposition leader Andrey Sannikau has asked the wives of Russia's president and prime minister to help secure his release.

Iryna Khalip made the appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev's wife, Svetlana, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's wife, Lyudmila, in a letter published on October 3 in the Russian independent newspaper "Novaya gazeta," for which Khalip is a correspondent in Minsk.

Sannikau was jailed for five years in May over the mass protests that broke out in Minsk against the results of the December 2010 presidential election giving incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka another term.

Khalip said in her letter that the Belarusian authorities and KGB are doing everything "to make me a widow, and our four-year-old son Daniil an orphan."

Talking to RFE/RL's Russian Service on October 3, Khalip said her husband is under pressure. She maintained that his recent ordeal, when she and her relatives were not able to obtain any information about his whereabouts, was further proof that the Belarusian authorities are subjecting him to pressure.

"A special operation is under way," she said. "Its goal is to demoralize and destroy my husband, and possibly to kill him."

"The fact that we were not able to locate him for two weeks while they were moving him to different jails is further proof of that.

"A man can disappear in the center of Europe in the 21st century, and that man is in custody.

"It looks as though something similar is happening to [jailed political activist] Mikalay Statkevich, and I know that huge pressure is being exerted on the leader of the Young Front movement, Zmitser Dashkevich, who is currently in jail in Hlybokaye. You know the situation is that people have to be saved."

Tough Prison-Transfer Ordeal

Sannikau has been moved several times in recent weeks.

He was originally sent to a maximum-security labor camp in the northern city of Navapolatsak.

On September 21, Khalip was told he was in transit to a penitentiary in Babruysk, but when she arrived there on September 26 officials told her that he was at a Mahileu detention center.

Khalip learned later that her husband was in fact kept for several days in a detention center in the eastern city of Vitsebsk before being taken to Mahileu on September 25.

And on September 30, officers at the detention center in Mahileu told Sannikau's lawyer that he was no longer there, but refused to say where he had been taken.

Khalip told RFE/RL that she decided to appeal to the wives of Russia's leaders in the hope that they will do their best to persuade their husbands to help her husband and other political prisoners in Belarus.

"If it was not possible [to secure the release of the political prisoners] by means of numerous addresses from the relatives of the political prisoners to the countries' leaders, then let me address the wives of the countries' leaders," she said.

"At the end of the day, they are wives, they are mothers, and so am I. Maybe they will understand me better and will be able to persuade their husbands."

Khalip also said European Union leaders should do more to help political prisoners in Belarus.

She added that she plans to hand similar letters addressed to the wives of European and U.S. leaders to officials at their embassies in Minsk.

Khalip said she hopes her activities will produce results

Read more in Belarusian here

Read more in Russian here