Ales Bialiatski: No hard feelings towards Lithuania
“No, I don’t have any hard feelings,” he told a press conference in Vilnius on Friday.
He opened the press conference with this statement, saying that he wanted to answer in advance the question he would definitely be asked.
“It was not the Lithuanian but the Belarusian government that put me in jail,” he said.
Belyatsky hopes other political prisoners will also be freed as there are still seven people in Belarus imprisoned for their political views.
Ahead of the press conference, Belyatsky removed a poster saying “Freedom for Ales Belyatsky” off the door of the Vilnius-based Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House.
The director of human rights organization Vyasna said it was too early to consider his release the start of positive changes in Belarus in the field of human rights. In his words, the West should not jump to conclusions.
“As long as there are political prisoners in Belarus, there can be no serious talks on the improvement of relations,” Belyatsky said.
He said he and his family would stay in Belarus as they saw no reason to leave. Asked whether he felt safe in his country, the human rights activist said it was a philosophical question.
Belyatsky came to Vilnius on Friday to attend a meeting of human rights activists. He said he was also scheduled to visit the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hold informal meetings with some Lithuanian lawmakers and Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas.
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius also met Belyatsky in Vilnius on Friday and called for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus.
“You have gone through a lot. And your case is a very expensive lesson for us and our institutions. We hope you will continue your work,” Linkevičius was quoted as saying in a statement.
Belyatsky was imprisoned in 2011 when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko launched a crackdown on the opposition. He was unexpectedly given amnesty and released on Saturday.
Director of human rights organization Vyasna, helping victims of Lukashenko’s political oppression, Belyatsky has received several prestigious European awards an has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
In November, 2011, he was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for tax evasion as Vyasna used bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania to collect funds then used to provide assistance to political prisoners. Under Belarusian law, such activities are illegal.