Hostages of Realpolitik: EU Wouldn’t Notice New Belarusan Prisoners of Conscience

A video is now being circulated by bloggers on the Internet in order to attract attention to the fate of Belarusan prisoner of conscience Mikalaj Autuchovic who is dying in custody. It is the EU approach to Belarusan regime that that may silence him for good.

Mikalaj Autuchovic, Jury Lavonau and Uladzimier Asipienka had been in custody since February 8, 2009. They had been accused of “destroying property” in 2005 in the case which had already been investigated in the proper manner and on which the sentence had been passed. The injured party hasn’t filed any official claims to either of the three.

Mikalaj Autuchovic and Jury Lavonau had already served a sentence passed in a case  widely believed to have a political background and had been recognized as prisoners of conscience by ‘Amnesty International’.

There had been almost no investigative actions conducted. Until recently the case investigator had denied meetings with their family members.

Mikalaj Autuchovic is on hungerstrike since April 16 demanding that either his case is sent to court or he is released. On June 2, however the prosecutor has extended the investigation on his criminal case until July 3.

He has lost nearly 30 kilos after 7 weeks on hungerstrike.

Until now, he received no support of the EU. In his May 26 report on  Belarus for PACE Mr Rigoni has not mentioned a word about Mr Autuchovic’c hungerstrike lasting for 1,5 months by then. Based on that report, PACE came out unanimously in favour of restoring the special guest status of the Belarusan Parliament at PACE.


August 16, 2008 the most prominent Belarusan prisoner, Alaksandar Kazulin, had been freed from jail where he had been serving a 5.5 year term for “hooliganism and organization of street disturbances”. Mr. Kazulin, the former President of the Belarusan State University, had been one of 2 opposition candidates in the presidential elections-2006 which had been considered massively rigged by the international community. It was his leading the peaceful demonstration of a couple thousand people to the notorious Akrescina detention center in Miensk which had landed him in prison for 5.5 years, the harshest term to be issued to a political figure of such level. However 2 years later he had been “pardoned” in what is now seen as an attempt of the Belarusan authoritarian leader to doctor the unattractive façade of Belarus for Europe which has changed its approach: the word ’sanctions’ had no longer been on the top list of the diplomats working with Belarus.

The reason for that had been quite obvious: the Russian invasion into Georgia which made the EU watch the regular ’scheduled’ gas war between Kyiv and Moscow through the glasses of the recent warfare attaching additional attention to it; the talks of Russian plan of invading Ukraine had been persistently circulating the Internet. The changed attitude to Lukasenka’s regime from Brussels’s side had definitely meant to drag one of the oldest Russian allies at least a bite away the former empire.

The time had been picked up correctly: worsening economic conditions had threatened the viability of Lukasenkan socio-economic model based on big industrial enterprises never being privatized: their target markets started shrinking thus intensifying the problem of keeping up with the established salary growth criteria which had been the point of the regime’s pride for the last 15 years. Provided that Russia’s aggression against Georgia had landed it in the utmost isolation and any other country had totally denied to recognize Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia, it was clear that the Putin-Medvedev tandem would step-up their pressures on its longest ally of Belarus in exchange of economic favours.

The assumption that this vulnerable position would make Belarusan dictator more tractable with the ghost of economic crisis on the near horizon had proved right. Of course all favours should come in exchange for something, and a couple of years earlier in Lukasenka’s case that would have been the fulfillment of 12 EU conditions concerning the democratization of the country. However given the urgency of the task, the EU had stepped down its demands: it was enough for the current head of state to release several most prominent political prisoners, allow two independent newspapers back into circulation, and remove the notoriously-known Navumau, Paulicenka, and Sejman from public positions in order to smoothen up the process; those three are widely suspected in kidnapping and potential murdering of Lukasenka’s opponents Hancar, Zacharanka, Krasouski, and videooperator Zavadzki in 1999…

The demonstrations in the central squares of Miensk are disseminated as ruthlessly as earlier; the only difference is that the common 15-day jail terms that their participants used to receive routinely are now not passed that frequently. However that doesn’t prevent the militia special force soldiers to beat up demonstrators without making any difference for their sex and age…

16 newspapers that had been banned from the state distribution network after 2001 elections are still remaining out of reach from their audience. Total circulation numbers of the two newspapers allowed back do not exceed 20 000 compared to several hundred thousand of just one official ‘Belarus Siegodnia’…

The newly established parties of ‘Belarus Christian Democracy’ and ‘The Freedom and Progress Party’ had never been registered by the Justice Ministry; the Human Rights Defence Centre of ‘Viasna’ had not been either…

The legal system remains totally dependent on the executive power. The rights of citizens are violated as a matter of routine starting from the right for compensation for those who live in detached houses which are to be demolished to complete the new city construction plans…

Role of Russia

Severe dissemination of several Miensk demonstrations which has occurred already after the ‘liberalization’ declarations and the hysterical reaction of Russia towards the ‘Eastern Partnership’ have prompted Belarusan blogosphere and  several experts to speculate on the idea that, given the narrow ties between security services of both countries, cruel dissemination of peace demonstrations might had been ordered by someone in the power pyramid at the request of Kremlin in order to keep Miensk back in Moscow orbit. The logic beyond that had been clear: new political prisoners, beating up the demonstrators etc might provoke the EU to accuse Lukašenka of not fulfilling his obligations and might bring the sanctions back. However as in the case of Polish diplomatic post being arrested by the BY border police a couple of weeks prior to the Eastern Partnership inauguration (which is a complete violation of all diplomatic conventions) the Polish side preferred to keep silent about the incident it was clear that the EU had been decisive on balancing off Russian influence on Miensk. Even at the cost of ignoring significant violations and thus legitimizing Lukašenkan regime to some extent.

These are not good news for people persecuted for their political beliefs (even if they are being presented as criminal offenders). Should the EU fail to tie its offers on cooperation to fulfillment of concrete political demands (and it is a favourable time now for it) Autuchovic, Lavonau, Asipienka and further potential victims of the regime might be left to the regime’s mercy…

Suicide of Jana Palakova

In March 2009 the lawyer and human rights defender Jana Palakova had been sentenced to 2.5 years of custodian restraint…

Instead of protesting, the highest EU representatives remained silent until today…

Three days after trial Jana committed suicide…

Many people believe that she had been SILENCED TO DEATH by promoters and profiteurs of the Eastern Partnership…

The Brussels-based office for Democratic Belarus reported the death of Jana in its XXXIX newsletter. The newsletter was published backdated, i.e. its distribution was delayed until the EU Council had decided for the Eastern Partnership…

On May 26 the Political Affairs Committee of PACE considered a report of Andrea Rigoni on the situation in Belarus. There had been not a word about Jana Palakova….

The Case of the 14

In the aftermath of the entrepreneurs’ protests in early 2008 14 young people had been sentenced to terms for ‘hooliganism and provoking public disorder’. 2 of them have received jail terms of up to 1.5 years while the rest had been sentenced to custodian restraint of up to 2.5 years and huge fines.

The custodian restraint was a comparatively new approach to criminal punishment in Belarus; human rights defenders believed that it had been applied to the figurants of the process in order to test the reaction of the EU: since custodian restraint does not involve imprisonment but a tight control of the police over the roundabouts of the convicted, the international community might have failed to recognize them as prisoners of conscience, the move highly unfavourable for the Belarusan regime seeking support in the West.

For the same reason the purely criminal articles had been used against those 14 young people (i.e. Andrej Kim, the one to receive 1.5 years of imprisonment, had been accused of hitting a policemen in the demonstration although there had been no evidence provided in the ‘trial’ that would prove that). The authorities believed that using criminal articles (like later against Autuchovic and Lavonau for destroying property) in political cases would turn the figurants into mere criminals for the West thus cutting off the chance of recognizing them the prisoners of conscience.

On May 2009 Amnesty International recognized 11 of those as prisoners of conscience. The Office for Democratic Belarus failed to report on this recognition in his May 27 newsletter.

It contains not a single word on Autuchovic and his six weeks on hungerstrike.

Till today, the EU authorities failed to bring their case up the agenda…

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