Purpose of pressure on political prisoners - to force the clemency petition
Increasing pressure on political prisoners should be seen as an attempt to force them to write a petition for clemency to President Lukashenko. In addition, the refusal of political prisoners to plead guilty in itself motivates the administration of the colonies to retaliatory actions.
The penalty to the former presidential candidate N. Statkevich was made more severe on January 12. The convicted politician was transferred from colony to prison for 3-year period. In this case, the total sentence toStatkevich has not changed and comprises 6 years.
In the case of Mr. Statkevich a special role could play a place, where he is serving his sentence- the Penal Colony of Shklov town, which is the homeland of President Lukashenko. It is likely that persistence of Statkevich in unwillingness to admit his guilt is perceived by the administration of the colony as an additional challenge and makes the jailers to improvise in their methods of pressure. According to human rights defenders, such toughening of the sentence is observed in the history of the Belarusian judiciary for the first time.
Another former candidate Alexander Sannikov, who is serving a sentence in the Vitebsk region and also refuses to acknowledge his guilt, is being exposed to the same type of pressure for several months: the complete isolation from relatives and lawyers, as well as the constant censorship for correspondence with his family.
During a press conference in Minsk on December 23, President Lukashenko said he was willing to pardon political prisoners subject to compliance of the procedure by them when a convicted person writes a petition for clemency, addressed to the President, and thus pleads guilty.
The relationship between the pressure on the prisoners and the President willingness to pardon them is confirmed by the motivation of the new sentence to Statkevich. The administration of the colony demanded to make the sentence more severe for the reason he has not learned the rehabilitation, is not seeking parole, and intends to conduct the criminal lifestyle after completing a sentence.
But we should not leap to the conclusion that President Lukashenko is preparing to release political prisoners and thus meet the requirements of the international community and to resume relations with the West. At least we are talking about squaring personal accounts with the two most anti-Presidential minded candidates in the campaign of 2010. In the eyes of Lukashenko, receiving pardon from Statkevich and Sannikov will allow him to regain his credibility among the subordinates. Conversely, the clemency without a petition will be considered as a capitulation by them.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.