Two years after the Belarusian regime began an unprecedented wave of repression against dissidents, the German-Swiss human rights organisation Libereco presents a graphic report on the situation of the more than 1100 political prisoners in the neighbouring country of the EU.
The arrest of the blogger Uladzimir Niaronski on 8 May 2020 marked the beginning of a wave of state terror in Belarus that has continued ever since. Niaronski was the author of an oppositional Youtube channel and was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Only a few weeks later, the two presidential candidates Siarhei Tsikhanouski and Viktar Babaryka were arrested as well. They have later been sentenced to draconian prison terms of 18 and 14 years.
The repression in numbers
Libereco has analysed all cases of political prisoners documented so far by the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna. According to the report, the number of political prisoners has increased from 187 in 2020 to 1225 today. 119 new cases have already been added in the first four months of this year. At 87 per cent, the majority of the detainees are male.
Five political prisoners have already been detained for more than 600 days without having been sentenced to any prison term at all. Overall, 30 per cent of the detainees are still awaiting sentencing while 70 per cent of political prisoners have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 9 months to 20 years. The total length of all prison sentences imposed on those currently imprisoned is a staggering 2756 years – equivalent to over one million days.
On the day this report is published (12 May), the current political prisoners will already have spent a combined total of more than 400,000 days innocently in prison. One of them is Mikita Zalatarou, the youngest political prisoner in the country. He is to spend his 18th birthday in prison today. Zalatarou was arrested at the age of 16, suffers from epilepsy and was sentenced to 5 years in a juvenile detention centre. Vital Zaradzei, the oldest political prisoner in Belarus, will also have to spend his 70th birthday in prison on 6 June after being sentenced to two years in prison.
Charlemagne Prize for Belarusian democracy movement
Among the political prisoners is Maria Kalesnikava, one of this year’s winners of the International Charlemagne Prize, which will be awarded in Aachen on 26 May. Kalesnikava, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison, will receive the award together with the leading figures of the Belarusian democracy movement, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo.
“In the shadow of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Belarusian dictator Lukashenko is holding well over 1000 political prisoners as personal hostages whose lives are in danger as long as his reign of terror continues. Western governments are urged to increase economic and political pressure on the Lukashenko regime. All sanctions imposed on Russia must be extended to Belarus. All foreign companies should withdraw completely from Belarus without exception,” demands Lars Bünger, President of Libereco in Switzerland.
Solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus
Libereco launched the solidarity campaign #WeStandBYyou in July 2020, in which members of European parliaments campaign for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. In the meantime, more than 300 parliamentarians from over a dozen European countries have become the symbolic godparents of a political prisoner in Belarus. With an online petition, Libereco demands the release of Maria Kalesnikava and all other political prisoners.