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Popular opposition activists released, campaign to free all political prisoners goes on

Leading Belarusian opposition activist Andrei Sannikov has been released from detention and pardoned by President Alexander Lukashenko
Leading Belarusian opposition activist Andrei Sannikov has been released from detention and pardoned by President Alexander Lukashenko

Index on Censorship

Belarusian opposition activists Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bondarenko have been released from detention and pardoned by President Alexander Lukashenko, report Index on Censorship and ARTICLE 19, along with a coalition of groups which had been lobbying for their freedom.

Sannikov, the founder of the Charter 97 pro-democracy group, had been held since the crackdown on opposition following the presidential elections in December 2010. Bondarenko was one of Sannikov's representatives and leader of the campaign "European Belarus". Both men were reportedly tortured in prison.

Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members have persistently called for their release, which comes as Europe considers further sanctions against Belarus on 23 April.

Michael Harris, head of advocacy at Index, said, "The release shows that targeted sanctions against Belarus's elite are effective… With Lukashenko also fearing the country may be barred from hosting the Ice Hockey World Championship 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, told Index, "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."

In a joint statement with more than two dozen local and international rights groups, ARTICLE 19 says at least 13 political prisoners remain in jail and is calling for their release.

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