Lukashenko holds Belarusian political prisoners “hostage”

Leader of the Belarusian opposition Svyatlana Tsykhanoskaya The country’s president accused Alexander Lukashenko Using political prisoners as “hostages”, the European Union prepares to toughen sanctions on its regime.

Lukashenko has been struggling to reassert control over Belarus since claiming a landslide victory in Flawed elections raised last August The biggest protests In the independent history of Belarus.

Some 35,000 Belarusians were arrested in the ensuing crackdown, with many claiming that they had been tortured. Lukashenko also targeted the media, forcing the President of Belarus Independent news portal Offline online. Last month, he rushed a fighter jet to Cross Ryanair flight and arrested Roman Protacevic, the defector who was on the plane.

Tsykhanoskaya told the Financial Times in an interview that the repression was “a Stalin-like”, the worst that Belarusians have experienced since Lukashenko came to power in 1994, three years after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union.

We can never imagine that the system could be so cruel. Of course in the past we had the suppression of demonstrations, but we did not have many people [being arrested]. People are really afraid. “They are afraid to go out and live,” the exiled leader said.

“The regime is now collecting as many hostages as possible to exchange in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.”

European Union foreign ministers are set to meet later today to finalize the latest in a series of sanctions they have imposed on Lukashenko’s regime since last year’s elections and the brutal crackdown on dissent that followed.

Diplomats He told the Financial Times, On Friday, member states temporarily agreed to target Belarus’s financial, oil, potash and tobacco sectors, which are seen as a major source of foreign currency for the regime.

Tsykhanoskaya said it is important that the measures are put into effect. “If sanctions are imposed step by step, it will be easier for the regime to find ways out,” she said. “But if it were imposed all at once, it would be much more difficult to evade.”

The last round of sanctions was caused by the detention of Protasevich, who angered Lukashenko with a play. Key role in reporting and coordination last year’s protests.

Belarusians in Poland gather to protest and demand the release of political prisoners, including Roman Protacevic (left) and Ihar Losek © REUTERS

Since his arrest, the regime has shown Protasevic – with visible bruises on his face and lively marks on his wrists – in a series of recordings and press conferences in which he praised Lukashenko.

Tsykhanoskaya condemned Lukashenko for the looks, claiming that he was acting out of “hate” and fear of change in Belarus, and said that Protasevich was clearly speaking under duress.

“Roman is in danger,” she added. His mission is to survive there. No one can understand – especially people in democratic countries – how people are threatened [in Belarusian prisons]. It is unethical to even discuss the content of these press conferences or these interviews. We have to discuss how to release him, and that’s it.”

Human rights groups say that as a result of Lukashenko’s campaign, there are now more than 500 political prisoners in Belarus. Among them is Tsykhanoskaya’s husband, Syarhi, who was arrested last year and thwarted his plans to run against Lukashenko for the presidency. Along with several other opponents, including blogger Ehar Losek, he is set to face a closed hearing later this week.

Tsykhanoskaya said it was not clear what would happen at the hearing given the arrested nature of the Belarus justice system. However, she renewed her call for the release of all political prisoners, adding that the EU should not ease sanctions before this is achieved.

“In all my meetings I urged EU leaders: Do not let the regime trade with political prisoners. She said: ‘Everyone should be released. House arrest is not freedom. Forcing people out of the country is not freedom.’”

Tsykhanoskaya said that the only way out of the political crisis in Belarus is to hold a new, free and fair vote.

When everyone is released, it does not mean that our crisis is over. of course not. It is a prerequisite for getting out of this crisis. “But that’s it,” she said. Then the next stage is dialogue with the regime and new elections. . . New elections – this is the only way out.

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