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 has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.