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Jailed Belarusian Election Monitor Complains Of Jail Conditions

Pyotr Markelau says his cell has little air but lots of lice.
Pyotr Markelau says his cell has little air but lots of lice.

An election monitor in Belarus jailed for filming the ballot count at one polling station during the recent parliamentary elections has complained of the conditions in the Minsk detention center where he is being held.

Pyotr Markelau said his cell had little air but lots of lice, his mother told RFE/RL.

His lawyer, Alvina Mingazova, was denied access to her client on December 13 because prison authorities said the visitors' room was full.

Markelau was arrested on December 9 and sentenced to 14 days in jail for filming the counting of ballots at one polling station in Minsk. His arrest was captured on video.

Markelau was working for the campaign of Stas Shashka, an independent candidate from the Youth Bloc who competed in the November 17 elections to the lower house of the Belarusian parliament. As such, he had the right to serve as an election poll observer.

Although a high number of independent candidates managed to get on the ballot, not one of the 110 candidates elected to the largely rubber-stamp parliament was not allied with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for a quarter of a century with an iron fist.

The fate of Markelau has resonated beyond Belarus. A member of the Lithuanian parliament sent a letter on December 11 to the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius to protest Markelau's arrest. Ausrika Armonaite said Belarusian authorities "should not prevent young people from taking part in the building of a democratic state."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe, whose monitors observed the November 17 balloting in Belarus, said the election failed to meet democratic standards.

Sergei Lebedev, the head of a monitoring mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Russia-led grouping of several former Soviet republics, said the vote had been "free, democratic, and in line with the constitution of the country."

The run-up to the election was marked by signs of creeping discontent in the tightly controlled Eastern European state of more than 9 million.

A crowd estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500 demonstrated on Minsk's Freedom Square on November 8 demanding democratic change.

The vote also came with Moscow upping pressure on Minsk to speed up military and economic integration.

Minsk is reliant on Russia for cheap oil and on roughly $5 billion worth of yearly subsidies for its outmoded Soviet-era economy that is mostly state-run, barring its flourishing information-technology industry.

The two countries signed an agreement in 1999 that was supposed to create a unified state and their joint border is an open one under a customs-union arrangement.

Putin and Lukashenka met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on December 7 to work on a "road map" for closer integration, but the talks ended in stalemate.

The two leaders met as hundreds took to the streets in Minsk to protest against the plan.

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