Ales Bialiatski : Belarus should be a country without political prisoners

On June 23, the Minsk office of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”  hosted a press conference of the organization’s leader and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, Ales Bialiatski, who was released on Saturday after almost three years of arbitrary detention. The political prisoner was released from penal colony No. 2 in Babruisk on June 21, after a bill on amnesty entered into force.

“To serve time in prison term for a democratic, independent Belarus – it is normal,” Ales Bialiatski said in the beginning of the press-conference. He crossed out his name on the T-shirt with the list of Belarusian political prisoners.

bialiatski-released-pressconf bialiatski-released-pressconf-minsk

Photos by Siarhei Hudzilin,

“We should not fear pressure and crackdown. I knew why I was serving time in prison, that’s why it was easy for me to serve time in jail. I am grateful to dozens of thousands of people, who had been supporting me,” the former political prisoner noted.

“I hope that my release is just a beginning. I address the Belarusian authorities: let Bialiatski’s release not be the end of political prisoners’ release. Belarus should be a country free from political prisoners. And we are close to that. 7 political prisoners should be released, and a moratorium on arrests imposed,” “Nasha Niva” quotes the former political prisoner as saying.

Bialiatski’s release came as a surprise.

“I read comments of the Interior Affairs Ministry, they planned to release 400 persons convicted under Article 400, like me. But I was “a malicious violator.” No one could explain me anything at the level of the penal colony. It was clear they do not decide anything. The release came as a surprise. Two inmates of our penal colony were amnestied,” he told.

“It is clear that the charges, on which I stood trial, showed it was a purely politically motivated trial. Even before the arrest it was clear that activities of “Viasna” stirred great interest of the KGB. I was thrown into a dilemma: either to leave the country or stay there and prove I was not guilty of committing those wrongdoings.

The authorities had set themselves a goal to intimidate the civil society. Have they succeeded? Not to the extent they wanted to. I haven’t gone back on my words and activities. Release does not mean my position has changed. The authorities are those who have to offer concessions, in order to normalize relations. The total control over the society existed and continues to exist as before. I know what pressure had been exerted on other prisoners. There are no noticeable radical changes in the society.

I do not have great pleasure caused by my release. As three years have passed, and nothing has changed in the country,” Bialiatski said.

“Back in the colony, we had Belarusian and Russian TV channels, and the Russian ones were more popular. The rabid Russian military propaganda certainly has an impact on prisoners in particular and on citizens in general. In small towns people are brainwashed so easily in this way.”

“The future is in our hands. When hands of the West and the role of the US are mentioned – it is sheer nonsense. Belarusians should change the situation themselves. At best they can express sympathy, but no one is going to bring democracy,” Bialiatski said.

The former political prisoner was proposed to write a petition for mercy two times.

“I didn’t have a choice to write a petition or not. I didn’t even have such a thought. Formally I was offered to write a petition for mercy addressed to Lukashenka two times. First time it was in September 2011, and then in January 2014, after the press-conference of Lukashenka. Many things are not pronounced in words in penal colonies, but you are pushed by their deeds, some petty provocations, restrictions.” Bialiatski stated.

“Any talks about a thaw in the relations with the West could be started only after release of all political prisoners. The situation like in Azerbaijan is impossible. We should have a zone free from political prisoners. We should not slide towards the situation of lawlessness and rightlessness,” he stressed.

Ales Bialiatski also noticed that he would continue his human rights activities.

I’m not going to emigrate, I feel very comfortable here. I may be getting old, but I’m concerned about the atmosphere of the Belarusian society. In the West, you feel out of place.”

I’ll do as much as possible for the sake of human rights activities. This will be my main job. I will continue to write,I began to enjoy it in prison. I wrote literary article and essays.

“Prison conditions for political prisoners are different: isolation from other prisoners (if someone says hello to you, then the person disappears). The unit was cleared of those who were subscribed to the Narodnaya Volya when I appeared there. Psychologically, it crushes you when others are frightened of you. However, you can be get used to it.”

Today the former political prisoner is to be registered by the police department.

“There would be some restrictions for me. Today I am to be registered by the police department, and I am to find out more about that there,” Bialiatski noted.

Ales Bialiatski is not going to run for presidency.

“I had never had a desire to run for presidency, and I do not have it now. First of all, I was born in Russia. Secondly, I do not see myself as a political leader. Social activities are even more relevant now than political ones. We have many presidential candidates, go ahead guys,” he said.

“Russia is a European country, which is to join the European countries sooner or later. Solution to the Belarusian or Ukrainian question is possible only complimented by changes in Russia,” he said.

See video of press-conference held in Minsk (in Belarusian)

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