Belarusian opposition activist Andrei Sannikov has been released from detention and pardoned by president Alexander Lukashenko, Index on Censorship has learned.Sannikov, the founder of the Charter 97 pro-democracy group, had been held since the crackdown on opposition in Europe’s last dictatorship in December 2010. Sannikov claims that he was tortured while in prison.
Index on Censorship has persistently called for his release, which comes as Europe considers further sanctions against Belarus, the former Soviet republic ruled by Lukashenko since 1994.
Michael Harris, Head of Advocay at Index on Censorship, said today: “The release shows that targeted sanctions against Belarus’s elite are effective.
“On 23 April European foreign ministers are due to discuss further sanctions. With Lukashenko also fearing the country may be barred from hosting the Ice Hockey World Champioship in 2014, it is clear he is in a mood to compromise.”
Natalia Koliada, co-founder of the acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre and campaign group Free Belarus Now said: I’m absolutely thrilled our old friend Andrei Sannikov has been released and can go home to see his wife and young son.
“Our campaigning will continue until all the political prisoners are released from Belarus’s jails. There are still over a dozen political prisoners held by Luka — none of them as high profile as Andrei. They must not be forgotten.”