It has been said quite a lot today about the necessity to release political prisoners in Belarus, but public opinion almost never talks about the conditions in which prisoners of conscience are forced to live in. Editor-in-chief of Charter-97 website, Natalia Radina, spent many months in the KGB detention center. Charter-97 often informs about cases of torture of political prisoners. Natalia Radina told Palitviazni.info more about the issue.
Natalia Radina: The pressure on political prisoners is growing. And the prison conditions are comparable to torture. Firstly, prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions. They are often kept in solitary confinement cells. Administration withholds packages sent to prisoners, which means that people are almost starving. Moreover, prisoners are frequently and without notice isolated from family and their loved ones, the authorities deny them visits. It is often observed that the correspondence suddenly stops, relatives and loved ones no longer receive any messages from prisoners. The prisoners have often limited access to lawyers, which is illegal. The authorities do it to get political prisoners to write applications for pardon to the dictator. Of course, also to “rehabilitate” them and make them stay away from politics.
– But even if the authorities receive a prisoner’s request for pardon, that does not mean that such prisoner will be released soon. So what is the point?
Natalia Radina: It’s exactly like that. Although by law Lukashenko can pardon anyone without receiving request for pardon. But it seems that it is important for the dictator. He wants to receive such requests. It is obvious abuse, it cannot be called differently. And it needs to be told to the whole world. The public opinion around the world needs to learn about the conditions in which political prisoners are kept. As behind bars, they are all completely defenseless. At any moment the authorities can do whatever they want, even kill.
-Do the authorities treat prisoners not like human beings, but like a commodity which is useful for demonstrating the strength?
Natalia Radina: Yes, the dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko has always been trading in people. It’s a kind of “slave trade” in the twenty-first century, in the center of Europe. People behind bars are broken by various means, by torture or other abuses. Lukashenko offers the political prisoners to the West in exchange for the withdrawal of sanctions, or for the introduction of specific preferences . This is happening now. For example, we all look forward to the release of Dzmitri Dashkievich. And I want to point out that his earlier release is almost certain. It might seem as a gesture of good will on the part of the dictator. Meanwhile Dzmitri Dashkievich sentence was unlawfully extended a year ago after he had already finished his first sentence.
– So what kind of policy should be developed by the EU countries against the official Minsk?
Natalia Radina: We should not talk about the immorality of the West – it is not the case. The problem is that the West does not have any concrete proposals for creating a strategy against the Lukashenko’s regime. There are half-measures, that lack a strategy leading to the removal of authoritarian regime in the heart of Europe. It is clear, however, that the dictator understands only the language of force. And if the European Union continues to impose trade sanctions, as it was in the case of the release of Andrei Sannikov and Zmitser Bondarenka; because their release was primarily a result of severe sanctions, then all political prisoners would be released. Therefore, the continuation of sanctions against the regime and Lukashenka’s close associates is a must. But instead, the EU started trading. West suspends the policy of further sanctions. We now see that some of the sanctions are being canceled, including the ban on entering the EU by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir Makey. Again, we go back to trading, while human life is at stake.
– However, if one obtaines the awareness and understanding of the situation, why there is no change?
Natalia Radina: The situation is such that the most important thing is to free people. Political prisoners must be released. I already said that their health and life is in danger, and it is serious. But keep in mind, that the future of the country and human rights situation are also at stake. It is a bad step to start a dialogue with Lukashenka, offer him any preferences, remove sanctions and grant loans. The EU should come up with a strong demand to stop all the political repression. If that does not happen, the situation in the country will remain unchanged. And that’s what we see today. Because after the release of political prisoners, there will appear new political prisoners, and this sad story has gone on for the past twenty years …