On May 22, Belarusian authorities “pardoned” Roman Pratasevich, an opposition journalist, critic of the government of Aleksandr Lukashenko and political prisoner of the Lukashenko regime. Mr. Pratasevich had earned the Belarusian government’s ire by reporting on popular protests following a sham election in 2020. Belarusian authorities arrested Mr. Pratasevich and his companion, Sofiya Sapega, after the plane they were on was forced to land in Minsk.
Earlier this month, Mr. Pratasevich was convicted of organizing unrest and plotting to seize power. He was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony.
“The release of even one political prisoner in Belarus is a positive sign, particularly when the total number of political prisoners continues to grow,” said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller. “And while he was pardoned, Ms. Sapega, who was sentenced with him, continues to serve her six-year detention today. We reiterate our call for the regime to unconditionally release all political prisoners unjustly detained in Belarus.”
Indeed, Belarus is currently holding about 1500 political prisoners. Among them are 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski; Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who announced his intention to run against Aleksandr Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election but was arrested before his campaign even began; and Maria Kalesnikava, who ran the campaign of another opposition presidential candidate, Viktor Babaryka, who is also currently in prison.
“We condemn the Lukashenka regime in Belarus for unjustly holding over 1,500 political prisoners,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a written statement.
“These men and women have been arrested and incarcerated for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms in pursuit of Belarusian democracy, for protesting a fraudulent election, or for opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine. Many of their trials were held behind closed doors, shielded from public scrutiny or accountability,” said Secretary Blinken.
“The United States stands with the people of Belarus as they seek a future based on the rule of law, respect for human rights, and an accountable, democratically elected government. We reiterate our strong desire to see the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners held by the Lukashenka regime, and we call on Belarus to meet its international legal obligations, as well as its commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”