President is ready to release political prisoners
On 3 June President Lukashenko held a meeting on the activities of the Belarusian courts of the first instance.
The Head of State initiates measures that will visually liberalize the Belarusian judiciary, making it a clear signal to the international community about potential renewal of the damaged relations. For instance, the aforementioned event implies the readiness of Minsk to release political prisoners in exchange for improving relations with the Western institutions and the IMF in particular.
During the meeting a number of statements were made, for instance, about overcoming the Soviet tradition of “prosecutive” nature of sentences, or about the possibility to review the decisions of the Supreme Court, which are final at the moment. Another liberal proposal concerned the introduction of jury trials.
Following the Presidential elections on 19 December 2010 the work of the law enforcement agencies and of the Belarusian judiciary in particular, was a subject to harsh criticism by the international community (they expressed concerns about the process of investigation and trials, sentences to demonstrators). It still is. Minsk had to start somewhere to renew the relationship and the judicial system appealed to the authorities as the safest area for liberal experiments. At least the judiciary is easier to reform compared with the KGB and MIA, or with the electoral system, where reforms are put on hold until the next election in 2012.
An indirect evidence of the willingness of Alexander Lukashenko to release political prisoners was his verbal approval of the sentences handed to post-election protestors. Therefore the President symbolically assumed the responsibility for sentences, alongside with the right to release prisoners early.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.