Updated at 18:21,18-06-2018

Analyst: Full exoneration of political prisoners hardly realistic under current regime

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

The European Union (EU) made improved ties with Belarus conditional on the release and exoneration of what it calls political prisoners. While legal exoneration is hardly feasible, political rehabilitation is possible, commentators say.

EU pressing for release

EU officials raised the issue at Eastern Partnership foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on July 22. "The matter was raised. The release of political prisoners and their full exoneration were pointed to as one of the main conditions. The foreign ministers also expressed a wish to see a more constructive attitude on the part of Belarus," the Lithuanian foreign ministry's press office told BelaPAN.

Replying to a question about Makey's reaction, the press office said, "The Lithuanian delegation found Belarus' reaction more constructive than before. Answers were given not to all questions and there was silence on some subjects, but the Lithuanian delegation found a more constructive attitude and a greater wish to build relations with the EU in the remarks."

Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy, appeared to be optimistic. He said he hoped that imprisoned human rights defender Ales Byalyatski would have an opportunity to visit him soon. Brussels wants Minsk to release more than a dozen of what it calls political prisoners before any negotiations on possible assistance.

Earlier this week, the authorities lifted all restrictions on journalist Iryna Khalip and politician Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, both given suspended sentences over a post-election street protest staged in Minsk on December 19, 2010, in an apparent sign of willingness to work toward a compromise.

However, the authorities still hold opposition politicians Pavel Sevyarynets, Zmitser Dashkevich and Mikalay Statkevich, human rights defender Ales Byalyatski and several others.

Observers note, that the EU has not yet specified what kind of exoneration it expects.

Exoneration demand diminishes chances for release

From the legal viewpoint, exoneration means the repeal of sentence and the payment of damages related to the illegal conviction, Uladzimir Labkovich, a Minsk-based human rights defender, told The Viewer. It may also imply prosecution of officials for false testimony during the trials.

That would require the authorities to recognize trials over the December 2010 post-election protest illegal, something they are unlikely to admit. "Insisting in legal rehabilitation as a fundamental and unconditional condition diminishes chances for a prompt solution," Labkovich says.

He adds, however, that the authorities could strike the politically-motivated convictions off the imprisoned politicians’ records and restore their political rights, in particular the right to run in elections, noting that this is the key demand of human rights defenders and EU politicians.

Restoration of rights realistic

During discussions, human rights defenders and some EU politicians reached an understanding that they should press for the full restoration of political prisoners’ political rights and legal status, says Yury Chavusaw, a Minsk-based political analyst.

"In Belarus, this can be achieved through the cancellation of conviction. Rights defenders insist on the cancellation as the fulfillment of [the EU’s] demand for rehabilitation," he told The Viewer.

This is a clear procedure that does not require the authorities to prosecute those involved in human rights abuses and political oppression, Chavusaw says.

Some opposition groups and foreign politicians who aid them insist on unconditional full political exoneration, hoping that the demand would be an obstacle to normalization between Belarus and the EU, Chavusaw says without naming the groups or politicians.

He notes that human rights defenders should be consulted on the matter because they do not have any political interest in the issue. "They see rehabilitation as the removal of criminal convictions from the records of those imprisoned over the post-election protest and before," Chavusaw says. He stresses that the demand is quite realistic, whereas full exoneration would be impossible without changing the political regime.