Ales Bialiatski: Repressive machinery is ready to repeat 2010
Ales Bialiatski, the head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", explains in answer to Radio Liberty's question if the world pays less attention to the human rights problem in Belarus why prisons are overcrowded in the country and forecasts if Mikalai Statkevich will be released ahead of the “presidential election”.
– Many Belarusians have the impression in the last few months that the world pays less attention to the human rights situation in Belarus and that geopolitical motives are becoming more important. Do you see the same?
– Unfortunately, I have to agree that the purity and sharpness in assessing the situation in Belarus has blurred. It really happened in the past few months after the visit of high-ranking EU politicians to the country, in particular, the leaders of France and Germany. These visits were followed by others, and Belarus is obviously interested in this because the country wants the normalisation of political and, above all, economic relations with the European Union. Taking into account the geopolitical situation, the EU has to blur its assessment of the situation of human rights and democratic freedoms in Belarus.
– Should we stop regarding it only negatively? The process of involving Belarus in joint projects can make official Minsk be afraid of violating human rights because Minsk can lose the possible profit it wants to gain.
– The process of involving such authoritarian regimes as the Belarusian one is absolutely ineffective. Europe has been trying to engage Belarus in some joint projects for 20 years. It usually ends with “one step forward, two steps back”.
In our situation I believe Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who said that the Russian authorises were Belarus's strategic partner. Economic, military and political unions with Russia undoubtedly prevail over a slight rapprochement between the authorities of Belarus and the EU.
– A certain liberalisation was observed ahead of the 2010 election campaign, but it ends with the dramatic events after December 19. Are there grounds to suppose that the current thaw can end with even greater brutality after the presidential elections?
– Surely. The situation of 2010 may repeat, but it depends on activity and persistence of Belarusian society and the level of political, civil and social activity. We now hear soft words, but certain youth groups are being persecuted. I mean anarchists and football fans. Despite soft words, secret services, police and prosecution agencies continue their harsh policy towards the groups, which, as they think, can be dangerous for the authorities. This practice can be expanded to wider groups at any moment.
– Does it mean that they changed the tactic and try not to do something that would evoke a wide response in the media, for example, not to touch popular politicians?
– We saw the same in 2010. We remember that anarchists Ihar Alinevich and Mikalai Dziadok were jailed before the elections on December 19. We observe the same now. The repressive machinery is ready and greased. They will do what was done in 2010 on the order that can be given at any moment.
– What has changed in Belarusian jails for the last 10-15 years?
– It is right to say that a prison is a small copy of the state. Belarusian prisons are like the Belarusian state in a more concentrated form. The latest letter from political prisoner Ihar Alinevich gives a clear picture of the atmosphere of fear, distrust and humiliated human dignity in Belarusian jails. Their main aim is still to destroy and humiliate the human being. The remains of Soviet jails can be seen in Belarus today. But generations change. 15 years ago all political prisoners were beaten in jails, but today such measures are applied only to targeted inmates. But the aim remains the same – to have them under total control.
– Official authorities sometimes say they want to reduce the number of inmates in the country and speak about the humanisation of the Criminal Code. But it happens so that the number of prisoners resumes each time after amnesties. Are the Belarusians so criminally-minded? Or maybe the reason is our legislation.
– Our legislation is surely stricter than it should be. Many jailed people shouldn't be in jails. They must be given non-custodial sentences. I mean child support non-payers and petty thieves. These people can compensate the damage at work.
– Should we blame only the political system? Or do people in Belarus need stricter punishments, severe approaches and tough sentences?
– We have the same societies near us, for example, in Lithuania, where the number of prisoners significantly reduced due to reforms. Human dignity of prisoners is not humiliated there on the scale we see in Belarus. I personally welcome amnesties. They give those guilty of minor offences an opportunity to be released. But the system of punishment must be reviewed and changed.
– The most famous prisoner in Belarus now is political prisoner and former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich. Do you think he will be released ahead of the “presidential elections” or not?
– Unfortunately, Lukashenka continues playing with lives of political prisoners like a cat plays with a mouse. The only thing he said for sure is that the future of Statkevich is in his hands. It sounds defiant and shows that our legal system is controlled by one person. I hope Mikalai Statkevich will be released. If the “elections” are carried out and Statkevich remains in prison, it will raise questions about honesty and sincerity of the person who currently rules the country.
– August 12 is Statkevich's birthday. What would you like to wish him?
– Today is one of the hottest day. I'd like the heat to be over. It will help Mikalai get through all difficulties in prison.