Political prisoner Statkevich has become common denominator in ’Coalition for Non-recognition’

April 22, 2016 19:15

Supporters of the “Coalition for Non-recognition” have finally joined hands around the initiative group for nominating political prisoner and former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich as presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. United Civil Party leader Anatoly Lyabedzka is likely to gain most benefits from the coalition in the presidential race. Meanwhile, unlike the “People’s Referendum” campaign, this coalition is not sustainable and has no long-term cooperation plans. 

Political prisoner Statkevich’s campaigning headquarters, who is currently in custody, will be headed by former political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich. 

Originally, Syarhei Skrabets, Statkevich’s counterpart from the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada) was thought to head the initiative group to nominate Statkevich as a presidential candidate. However, later it has been decided that his wife Marina Adamovich will lead the nomination group. 

This initiative group has united practically all opposition movements, which advocate for changes in the election practices as a condition for their participation in the presidential race, including the United Civil Party, Belarusian Christian Democracy and some other opposition initiatives. 

United Civil Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka is likely to use the potential of the “Coalition for Non-recognition” as Statkevich’s backup and may run his own campaign aiming to attract attention to the problem of political prisoners in Belarus. At least, that is what he said about half a year ago. So far, Lyabedzka, who has already announced his presidential ambitions, has somewhat disassociated himself from the Statkevich’s initiative group, where his interests are represented by his deputy. 

Meanwhile, according to the law, Statkevich cannot be registered as a candidate due to a conviction. His supporters rather aim to register Statkevich’s initiative group in order to hold a public campaign to draw people’s attention to the problem of political prisoners in the country. 

Statkevich’s supporters do not have illusions that their campaign might lead to the release of political prisoners, they aim, however, to collect circa 150,000 signatures in his support. 

Meanwhile, the Central Electoral Commission said that registration of Statkevich’s initiative group was impossible. In particular, CEC secretary Nikolai Lozovik said, “I can unequivocally say that it will not be registered so as Statkevich cannot become a candidate for presidency”. That is where Anatoly Lyabedzka may step in as Statkevich’s backup. 

It is worth noting that creation of Statkevich’s initiative group would significantly cut the odds of Anatoly Lyabedzka to run for the presidency. In addition, Statkevich has agreed with the creation of the initiative group only if that leads to an elections boycott in the case of ‘guaranteed failure of registration’. It is quite possible that Lyabedzka has joined the coalition in order to be able to get out of the election campaign and become a de facto leader of the coalition until the end of the race, not as a candidate. This would save him from collecting signatures while keeping him in the focus of attention. 

The Belarusian authorities may use tough measures against opposition parties, which will try to act outside the outlined frameworks in the election campaign. During previous elections, all political activity attempting to raise awareness of the political prisoners issue has been suppressed. Simultaneously, in May 2015 the authorities tightened conditions of Statkevich detention and transferred him to a stricter prison until the end of his term (about a year and seven months).

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.