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.
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.