Andrei Sannikov, a former political prisoner from Belarus, has been granted asylum in the UK. Sannikov told the Charter97 website:
It was not a simple decision for me. But I had no other choice — other options were to be tortured and humiliated in jail or to be quiet as a lamb. I remain a Belarusian politician and will go on telling the truth about my country and press for concrete measures of help to democratic Belarus. I think my decision will help to free my wife and son, who are still kept hostages by Lukashenko’s regime.
Sannikov and six other opposition candidates were arrested after presidential elections held on 19 December 2010. Five of them were jailed. Sannikov was severely beaten by the police on election night while protesting the result in Minsk. The brutal breakup of a peaceful protest against election fraud marked the start of a mass crackdown on opposition.
He was later sentenced to five years imprisonment after being convicted of organising mass riots, his wife was also arrested.
While Sannikov and his wife Irina Khalip were both being held in KGB jails, the authorities tried to permanently remove their son Danil, then three, from their care and send him to an orphans’ asylum.
Sannikov’s wife Irina Khalip, a well-known journalist,remains in Minsk under house arrest serving a two-year suspended prison sentence despite a promise to lift her travel restrictions made by president Alexander Lukashenko during a recent interview with Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the Independent newspaper.
Mike Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:
In the run-up to the 2010 presidential election, I interviewed Andrei in his office in Minsk. He was under huge pressure even before his arrest. Sannikov’s detention and subsequent torture show that President Lukashenko is committed to crushing any political dissent. Sannikov is still barred from standing in any future election, forcing his hand to seek asylum. The EU must call for the unconditional release of all the political prisoners before any engagement or IMF bailout of Belarus’s ailing economy.
Lukashenko came to power in 1994, and has an iron-grip on Belarus prohibiting protest and limiting civil freedoms. Human rights defenders say there are still 12 political prisoners jailed in Belarus.
Andrei Aliaksandrau is Belarus and OSCE Programme Officer at Index. He tweets at @aliaksandrau