The Belarusian authorities must immediately grant a jailed former presidential candidate access to his lawyer, Amnesty International said today after it emerged he had been subjected to the latest in a series of unannounced prison transfers.
One of Andrei Sannikau’s lawyers yesterday discovered that her client had been moved from the prison colony in the eastern city of Babruisk, where he was being held.
She was today informed that Sannikau had been transferred to a prison in Mahiliow, 200 km to the north-east, but was refused access to him on the basis that he was still in transit.
“Once again, the Belarusian authorities appear to be playing a game with Andrei Sannikau’s lawyers and family, moving him to and fro among prisons as punishment for his political views,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Belarus researcher.
“This must end and he must be set free immediately and unconditionally, as there is no basis for his imprisonment or cruel treatment. Family members or lawyers should always be informed promptly whenever a prisoner is transferred.”
Such frequent prisoner transfers are unprecedented in Belarus where the authorities often refuse to move prisoners even when their lives are at stake. During the transfer process, which can last for days or weeks at a time, prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions and forced to endure extreme cold or heat with inadequate food or drink.
Sannikau was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in May for his role in mass protests in Minsk following the re-election of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka last December. Many who were sentenced in relation to the demonstrations have been released after signing confessions for organizing or taking part in “mass disorder”.
Amnesty International believes that Sannikau is being subjected to frequent, apparently groundless, transfers as a way of putting physical and psychological pressure on him to sign a confession.
In September, Sannikau and fellow prisoner of conscience Zmitser Dashkevich were subjected to a transfer that lasted more than 10 days. For part of this time, the authorities failed to inform Sannikau’s lawyer about his whereabouts.
The former presidential candidate’s wife, journalist Iryna Khalip, said that in one prison along the transportation route, her husband’s cellmates had threatened him with physical violence.
Amnesty International is concerned that Sannikau’s continued detention places him at risk of torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of prison staff or third parties.
Besides Sannikau and Dashkevich, several others are currently serving prison sentences for their peaceful participation in last December’s protests. They include Zmitser Bandarenka, Eduard Lobau, Pavel Sevyarynets and Mykalau Statkevich, all sentenced earlier this year to prison terms of between two and six years.
Another prisoner of conscience, Dzmitry Uss, was sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment, but was released on 1 October.
“We continue to urge the Belarusian authorities to release all the prisoners of conscience who were jailed solely for taking part in peaceful political protests last December,” said Heather McGill.
“People in Belarus must be afforded the right to peacefully express dissent and political views without fear of harsh reprisals from the authorities.”