Updated at 17:25,07-01-2021

Israel's Ambassador Shagal calls Belarusian political prisoners criminals


Joseph Shagal compared the Belarusian political prisoners with Palestinian extremists.

He said it in an interview with RTVI channel on February 6.

"Officially, there are four persons who are considered to be political prisoners. Four persons are in prison. Lukashenka offers them to apply for clemency, as in the case of Khodorkovsky. Apply for clemency and you will be freed. But they don't want. They prefer to remain heroes in prison," Joseph Shagal said.

Asked by a journalist about the position of Israel, the only democratic country in the Middle East, on the problem of political prisoners in Belarus, Shagal answered:

"How do we treat a Palestinian who throws a stone to the Knesset? Who is he – a political prisoner or a criminal? They were convicted under a criminal article, not a political one. All of them. For attacking the parliament, for throwing stones."

"I don't say they are not political prisoners. It depends on the side we look at them. From the point of their country's criminal code, they are criminals. From the point of view of Poland or the EU, they are political prisoners," the Israeli diplomat said.

The journalist asked about Israel's point of view and Shagal answered:

"From our point of view, they are criminals, because they were convicted for hooliganism, for throwing stones, for degrading the authorities and so on."

The Israeli ambassador also commented on the sanctions against official Minsk.

"The main country that initiated the pressure on Belarus is Poland. For example, Poland, which initiated the sanctions, has a trade turnover of 5 billion dollars with Belarus. On the one hand, they say 'they violate human rights, he is a dictator', but on the other hand, it's 5 billion dollars."

Shagal noted the trade turnover between Belarus and Israel was only 130 million dollars.

According to the Israeli diplomat, his country closely examines the possibility of creating a free trade zone with the Customs Union.

Shagal also said it's possible that the visa regime between Belarus and Israel would soon be abolished. "If everything goes right, if the parties agree, there's a real chance that the visa regime will be abolished by summer," he said.

Joseph Shagal already made controversial remarks about the Belarusian political prisoners. At his first press conference in Minsk on February 15, he said he didn't know about political prisoners in the country. "I am a citizen of Israel. We don't have any political prisoners. As for Belarus, I don't know about it. I need to read newspapers. I'll answer your question in six months," the ambassador said. "As a journalist, I know perfectly how stories are written. Have you ever visited camps for political prisoners?"