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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.