Updated at 18:20,20-10-2016

It is early to say that there are no political prisoners in Belarus

22-10-2009, 15:59

It is "premature" to say that there are no political prisoners in Belarus, human rights defender Valyantsin Stefanovich said at a launch party held in Minsk on Wednesday for his book about people prosecuted in Belarus in 2008 for "political reasons."

"The year 2008 was rather contradictory," he said. "People were convicted in what is known as Case of the Fourteen. Andrey Kim, Syarhey Parsyukevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin were behind bars. In August, all political prisoners were released and not a single one remained in prison for the first time over the last five years."

Things, however, changed soon, he said, referring to a "restricted freedom" sentence imposed on opposition youth Alyaksandr Barazenka in December 2008 and a prison term handed down to Artsyom Dubski, a member of an opposition youth organization called Malady Front, this past July. The two were convicted in the Case of the Fourteen, over participation in an unsanctioned demonstration that was staged in Minsk on January 10, 2008.

"Some convicts in the Case of the Fourteen haven’t yet been amnestied," the rights activist said. "It means that those who are now abroad may face political prosecution. It means that they will never return to their home country because they may be arrested here. Amnesty International has declared 11 convicts in the Case of the Fourteen prisoners of conscience."

Mr. Stefanovich said that Mikalay Awtukhovich and his associate Uladzimir Asipenka are still held in Minsk’s detention center on what many believe are politically motivated charges.