Prominent Soviet-era dissidents Sergei Kovalyov and Vladimir Bukovsky say nine jailed Belarusian opposition activists pardoned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka last week should not be condemned for requesting clemency, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
The nine were released by Belarusian officials in the past few days after allegedly writing "repentance letters" that were criticized by some observers.
Many in Belarus believe that Lukashenka used the activists' "repentance" letters as a political tool to retroactively justify the violent dispersal of hundreds of opposition activists -- including several presidential candidates -- who took to the streets to protest the official results of the December 19 presidential election in which Lukashenka secured another presidential term.
Dozens of the protest participants -- including three former presidential candidates -- have since been tried and jailed for their participation in the December 19 demonstration.
Bukovsky, 68, a London-based Soviet dissident, spent 12 years in Soviet prison camps and psychiatric clinics before being exchanged in 1976 for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan.
He told RFE/RL that the nine Belarusians had the right to request a pardon.
"Of course, in Soviet times we had much longer jail terms, 10-15 years, and it is very hard to compare the two situations: the old Soviet and current Belarusian," he said.
"But one thing is clear: back then we had a moral directive which was that everyone has a right to obtain his release through asking for forgiveness from the Soviet government. Provided, that is, that he didn't sell out or betray someone else in the process."
Bukovsky said people who were released from the gulag as a result of "repenting," without betraying anyone, were never stigmatized, but they were permanently excluded from "dissident circles."
Kovalyov, 81, spent 10 years in Soviet jails and labor camps and now lives in Moscow. He told RFE/RL that nobody can judge the released Belarusian activists.
He said no one knows for sure why those nine activists were chosen by Belarusian authorities for a pardon.
Kovalyov suggested that their cases may really have been weak and any international expert could have easily proved that.
He added that, even during the liberalization launched in the USSR in the mid-1980s by Soviet Union Communist Party General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, officials continued to pressure political prisoners to write "repentant letters asking for clemency."
But he said dissidents wrote or signed such letters only very rarely.
Read more in Belarusian here and here