Belarus: pressure grows for release of detained dissidents
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Jan. 10 for the release of opposition candidates, journalists and others detained in Belarus during the crackdown on protests following the Dec. 19 election. Police beat and arrested protesters and rounded up opposition candidates after the vote, which officially handed a fourth term to President Alexander Lukashenko. As of last week, some 200 of the estimated 650 detainees were still being held. (Reuters, Jan. 10)
Some two dozen of those still detained are being held in special KGB political prisons, facing charges of masterminding last month's protests. These include former presidential candidates Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, Andrey Sannikaw and Mikalay Statkevich, and journalist Natallya Radzina, who is said to be in need of urgent medical attention. In a statement, relatives of the detained called for an international probe of the repression, and sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. (Naviny.by, Jan. 11)
Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced deep concern over the post-election violence, and called for the immediate release of those detained. "I urge all parties to refrain from violence and demonstrate full respect for human rights," Pillay said.
Pillay cited one incident in which a leading opposition candidate was attacked on his way to a rally in Minsk, hospitalized and later abducted by unidentified persons. She also cited attempts by supporters of opposition candidates to break into a government building, which was followed by the mass detentions. (UN News Centre, Jan. 10)
On Jan. 10, four apartments belonging to opposition activists in the city of Brest were searched by KGB officers. Among those searched was the apartment of Artsyom Tserashonak, who collected signatures for opposition presidential candidates Yaraslau Ramanchuk and Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu in the run-up to the election. Tserashonak was also summoned for interrogation on Jan. 11. Dozens of offices and homes of journalists, activists and opposition supporters have been searched over the past several days. (RFE/RL, Jan. 10)
The Lukashenko government has also warned that it might seize custody of the three-year-old son of a jailed opposition presidential candidate. Authorities say they are investigating the status of the child, who is now living with his grandmother, and are expected to make a decision by the end of the month. The child, Danil Sannikov, is the son of Andrei Sannikov, a leading opposition presidential candidate, and Irina Khalip, a journalist, who were both among those arrested—seized from their car while Khalip was giving a telephone interview to a Moscow radio station. Andrei Sannikov was severely beaten, and his legs broken, according to his lawyer. (NYT, Jan. 10)