Valiantsin Stefanovich: Human rights defenders view pressure to force prisoners of conscience to sign petitions for pardon as torture
“We view their release as the first step by the Belarusian authorities taken as a result of the European Union’s reaction to the situation in the country,” says deputy chair of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich in his comments on the recent release of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau and his election aide Dzmitry Bandarenka.
“As we see it, the authorities are willing to delay the release of other political prisoners to possibly link it to the upcoming parliamentary elections. Our position on the issues has not changed. Firstly, we demand an immediate and unconditional release all prisoners of conscience. Secondly, we express our serious concern over possible pressure on other political prisoners by the administrations of penal colonies aimed at forcing them to apply for pardon. As we know, this happened last year – pressure, either direct or indirect, was used through other political prisoners. We believe this strategy is totally inadmissible. Moreover, we are going to view this kind of harassment as torture against the persons that are still held in penal colonies,” says Mr. Stefanovich.
Andrei Sannikau was released from the Vitsebsk-based Vitsba-3 penal colony on 14 April. Dzmitry Bandarenka, Sannikau’s aide during the 2010 presidential election, was released on 15 April. Thirteen more prisoners of conscience are still serving their terms in the penal colonies across Belarus.