Belarus opposition politician Andrei Sannikov freed from jail

 

Moscow

After more than a year in jail, opposition politician Andrei Sannikov was freed over the weekend, after he was granted a pardon by Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus.

Mr Sannikov arrived in Minsk late on Saturday night, and was greeted by a number of well-wishers chanting slogans of support and foisting flowers upon him. He thanked those who had supported him and said his first wish was to spend time with his family.

European countries had repeatedly called for Mr Sannikov, and a number of other political prisoners, to be freed, and his release may be part of an attempt by Mr Lukashenko to mend extremely frayed relations with Europe. Mr Sannikov, 58, was arrested during protests after a presidential election in 2010, in which Mr Lukashenko won a resounding victory but observers said was rigged. Tens of thousands of people gathered in central Minsk to protest the result, and Mr Sannikov was arrested, along with several other presidential candidates and hundreds of protesters. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and has been kept in harsh conditions, often unable to receive visits from his wife, a journalist who was also arrested and was later kept under house arrest.

Mr Sannikov initially refused to ask for a presidential pardon, but relented earlier this year, apparently after threats to his family. Mr Lukashenko agreed to pardon him over the weekend, and also released Dmitry Bondarenko, who worked as a campaign manager for Mr Sannikov.

Relations between the EU and Belarus remain rocky, and earlier this year all ambassadors from EU countries were withdrawn from Minsk. European bodies cautiously welcome the move, but said that Mr Lukashenko, who has run the country since 1994 and been dubbed “the last dictator in Europe”, needs to do more. “This is excellent news for Sannikov, his family and his friends, but I remain concerned over the fate of other jailed political opponents, notably former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich,” said Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, currently the chairperson of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “I call upon President Lukashenko to build upon this positive development and release all remaining jailed opposition leaders”.

Belarus is also the last country in Europe to retain the death penalty, and last month executed two men who were convicted of a bomb blast on the Minsk metro system last year. Much of the evidence at the trial was shaky and one of the condemned withdrew his confession, which he said was extracted under torture, but the two were executed anyway.

Irina Bogdanova, a democracy campaigner and the sister of Mr Sannikov, said that the EU should not stop pressuring Mr Lukashenko because of her brother’s release. “We are overjoyed to learn of their release, but we cannot celebrate fully until all political prisoners in Belarus are released and rehabilitated, and free and fair elections are held,” she said. “The EU must not back down because of this news.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee