The president of belarusToday, Alexandr Lukashenko, winked at political exiles on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas, coinciding with the beginning of the trial of the activist Ales Bialiatski, awarded in 2022 with the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The time has come for us, the representatives of power, I as head of state, you religious, our people, to go meet those people who, having lost their minds or their north for a while, made a mistake”, said Lukashenko, as reported by the BELTA agency.
Lukashenko, whose re-election sparked the largest anti-government protests in the history of this country in August 2020, stressed that his government did not expel anyone from Belarus, although hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters emigrated due to police repression.
“We do not expel anyone from Belarus. This is as much your land as it is ours. But they sought a better life by fleeing for different reasons, ”he said, estimating thousands of Belarusians who have gone to Minsk to return.
He denied that his reaction is a response to pressure from the West, which does not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president due to electoral fraud, in addition to accusing him of complicity with the Russian military campaign in Ukraine.
“Every day there are demands that we allow their return (…), even from those who broke the law. No. Each one must pay their own. But I am sure that among the exiles and those who live among us, there are deeply repentant people who understood that they were wrong. These should not be left lying in the ditch,” he explained.
Bialiatski, founder of the Viasna (Primavera) human rights organization, denied on January 5 all the charges against him, including smuggling money to finance opposition activities or non-payment of taxes, and which could cost him a prison sentence. up to 12 years in jail.
Viasna, who has fought the Lukashenko regime since 1996, dedicated himself to assisting victims of the brutal police crackdown that erupted in August 2020 by paying fines or helping them hire lawyers.
The UN Office for Human Rights today called on Belarus to drop the charges against Bialiatski and the other three activists on trial, who were detained in 2021.
According to office spokesman Jeremy Laurence, the arrests were “totally arbitrary” and the charges against them are “politically motivated”, for which the UN has called for the “immediate” release of the defendants.
Bialiatski received the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with the Russian human rights organizations Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.
Soon, the trial in absentia against the opposition leader, Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, a former presidential candidate in exile in Lithuania, will also start.
In December Lukashenko commuted or reduced the sentences of 4,500 prisoners under an amnesty law, but none had been arrested in protests against electoral fraud.
According to Viasna, there are some 1,500 political prisoners in the former Soviet republic, including opposition leaders such as Viktor Babariko and Maria Kolesnikova, who are serving long prison terms.
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