By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MINSK, Belarus — Former Belarusian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov has been transferred from a labor camp in the eastern city of Babruysk. The transfer came without warning and Sannikov’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
Sannikov’s transfer came to light when his attorney arrived in Babruysk to meet with him. There prison officials informed the attorney, Andrei Varvashevich, that Sannikov’s relatives would be given more information when he reached his final destination. Officials were otherwise silent at that time.
One of authoritarian president Aleksander Lukashenko’s main political rivals, Sannikov was sentenced to five years in prison in the spring of 2011 for organizing a large antigovernment protest. The conviction and sentence were part of Lukashenko’s wide-spread and harsh crackdown against opposition.
While in prison, Sannikov complained of torture, deprivation of sleep, exposure to the cold and threats to him and his family. His attorney suspected that he had a broken leg but was denied an x-ray.
Sannikov was just one of seven opposition candidates who faced prison sentences for their roles in post-election violence in
Lukashenko has claimed that Sannikov was linked to the terrorist bombing of a Minsk subway station that killed 14 people. Also, in the closing argument in Sannikov’s case the prosecutor stated that “[f]rom November to December 20, Sannikov and others organized mass unrest, accompanied by pogroms, preparations for arson, the destruction of property, violence against people and armed resistance against representatives of the government.”
The United States Department of State described the sentence as “politically motivated.”
In September Sannikov’s relatives were kept in the dark as to his whereabouts for two weeks. His wife Iryna Khalip, a journalist, called the authorities effort to keep Sannikov’s location a mystery are part of an attempt “to intimidate him.”
Originally Sannikov was imprisoned in the city of Navapolatsak. He was transferred on September 21 and his family was told he would be in Babruysk on September 24. When his family went to Babruysk on the 24th he was not there and did not arrive there for another two weeks.
Former prisoners describe the prisoner transit process as a “tough ordeal.” Living conditions while being transported are normally worse than being in prison itself. The prisoners are held in tiny cells in “inhumane conditions.” There are no newspapers, sanitary facilities, letters, and no opportunity to talk to anyone.
Since the initial discovery of Sannikov’s transfer, Khalip has gained more information as to his destination. She told journalists, “It was [acting chief of the Corrections Department Syarhei] Pratesnka who explained to me several weeks ago why Sannikov had been transferred to Babruisk. He said it would be better for him there. Now he says Sannikov has been transferred from Babruisk colony Nr 2 to the Vitsebsk region due to danger to his life and health. Pratsenka did not say in what colony Sannikov was sent.”
There are five penal colonies in the Vitsebsk region. When Sannikov’s attorney asked Pratesnka which prison Sannikov would end up in Pratesnka told the attorney he should figure out the location himself.
Currently all the penal colonies in the Vitsebsk region deny that Sannikov is present in their facility. Officials at Babruisk continue to refuse to give Sannikov’s exact location, and where and why he is being transferred.
For more information please see:
Charter ’97 — Sannikov To Be Sent To Vitsebsk Region Again? — 16 November 2011
Charter ’97 — Sannikov Is Not In Vitsebsk Penal Colonies — 16 November 2011
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Jailed Belarusian Opposition Leader Again In Transit — 16 November 2011
New York Times — Sannikov, Belarus Opposition Leader, Gets Five-Year Sentence — 14 May 2011
Washington Post — Belarus: 7 Presidential Candidates Face 15 Years — 22 December 2010