Updated at 21:48,17-09-2020

Another vain promise or course toward improving relations with EU?

Belsat, following BelaPAN

At today's meeting with the heads of several Belarusian media outlets the Belarusian President brought up the issue of releasing political prisoners Ales Bialiatski and Mikalai Statkevich.

Ales Lipay, Director of news agency BelaPAN, said that indifferent members of the public had raised funds to compensate financial damage allegedly caused on the state by human reights defender Ales Bialiatski. The money were transferred to the appropriate account long ago.

In response, Mr Lukashenka delegated Aliaksandr Radzkou, the president’s deputy chief of staff, to check the information.

'This is a compelling argument. Political issues and Bialiatski's views are not the point. I swear I have never known him,' he said and added that paying taxes is a bounden duty.

According to the head of state, if the information is confirmed the authorities should consider Bialiatski's amnesting.

Former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich also may be released from prison if he asks for a pardon, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

When asked by Mr Lipay whether Statkevich would be freed if he applied for a pardon, but his application did not contain an admission of guilt, Mr. Lukashenka said: 'We may do this, but the procedure should be observed.'

'Statkevich is not a rival to me,' Mr. Lukashenka said. 'He is politically dead for the Belarusians. During the last [presidential] election, he conducted a policy that was beneficial to the president…. For me, he was not a rival or a politician, and will not. Statkevich is not worth of being a stumbling block in our relations with the European Union.'

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In November, 2011 Ales Bialiatski, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, was sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a medium security penal colony and seizure of property for alleged tax evasion. The fact of his holding bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania gave the grounds for criminal prosecution. The cash standing to the credit of accounts was used for human rights defence activity: the centre financially supported the people affected by Lukashenka’s regime. In court Bialiatski stated that he had no other possibility of getting financial aid from foreign backers.

Mikalai Statkevich is the last 2010 presidential candidate to be in prison. The sentence given to Mr Statkevich in 2011 was one of the toughest: six years of imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony. The reason might be explained by the fact that in his election speech Mikalai Statkevich addressed to the current president demanding “to give back all that you have stolen”. The authorities are trying to embitter Statkevich’s life even in prison putting him to a disciplinary cell or making him share a ward with an AIDS sufferer. However, the former presidential candidate keeps mantaining his innocence and refuses to ask President Lukashenka for pardon.