Monday

14th Jun 2021

EU highlights suffering of Belarusian boy-prisoners

  • Minsk: Pro-democracy protests broke out after rigged elections last August (Photo: tut.by)

At least seven of Belarus' "political prisoners" were minors who needed special EU attention, 22 European ministers have said in a personal appeal.

Siarhei Hatskevich, Dzmitry Khars, Dzianis Khazei, Eduard Kudyniuk, David Zbaranski, Nikita Zolotarev, and Vital Prokharau were all just 16 or 17 years old when they were detained and sentenced to up to five years in juvenile detention.

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Another regime victim, Dmitry Stakhovsky, who was 17 when arrested, recently "took his own life as he could no longer bear the pressure exerted on him by investigation officers," the EU politicians said in a joint letter to the heads of EU institutions this week, seen by EUobserver.

Children were also being used "as a tool to pressure their parents, who are being threatened with losing custody over their children for taking part in ongoing protests," they said.

"Since August 2020 [the start of pro-democracy demonstrations in Belarus], Belarusian children feel uncertainty and insecurity due to ... daily terror by the state," they added.

And EU officials should "be allowed to meet the detained minors and their parents in the nearest future", they said.

The Lithuanian-led appeal was co-signed by the foreign and youth ministers of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Romania, and Slovenia.

It comes amid a new low in EU relations after Belarus hijacked a passenger plane flying to Vilnius to seize an opposition activist.

EU states have locked out Belarus from European aviation.

They are also drawing up sanctions on its banks and its oil and fertiliser firms and preparing to blacklist more officials in response.

But for its part, Russia took a leaf from Belarus' book when it also snatched an opposition activist off a plane two days ago.

Andrei Pivovarov, the head of Open Russia, a pro-democracy NGO, had boarded a flight from St. Petersburg to Warsaw when it was stopped before take off and police hauled him away.

"One more political prisoner in Russia today ... now held incommunicado at the Investigative Committee", Vladimir Kara-Murza, a fellow Russian activist, noted at the time.

"This case is not an isolated incident, but confirms a continuous pattern of shrinking space for civil society, the opposition, and critical voices, as well as independent media in the Russian Federation," an EU foreign service spokesman said on Tuesday.

"The European Union calls on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Pivovarov," he added.

But his appeal was likely to fall on deaf ears, given Russia's attitude to EU diplomacy.

The last time an EU VIP - foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell - was in Moscow, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expelled three European diplomats and lambasted the EU.

Borrell visit 2.0

The Portuguese foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, also met Lavrov at a seminar in Moscow on Monday to try to mend ties under the auspices of Portugal's EU presidency.

And, true to form, Russia pulled Pivovarov off his plane the same day, while Lavrov once more harangued the EU.

Russia and Europe might be able to cooperate on "little things", like trade, if the EU treated it with "equality and mutual respect", Lavrov said.

But, for the most part, his long speech attacked the EU's "unilateral illegal sanctions", Cold-War ideology, and "open interference in the internal affairs of Russia".

The EU's foreign policy, or "guiding principles", on Russia was "obviously incapable" of doing its job, Lavrov said.

And he blamed Kiev for ongoing warfare in Russia-occupied east Ukraine.

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