Old days or new?


Andrei Klimov is spending his first Christmas in a Belarusian penal colony for an article written on the Internet.  It is not, however, his first year as a Belarusian political prisoner.  As reported in September 2007, he was sentenced at a trial, effectively held behind closed doors, to two years imprisonment.  The charges were of making "appeals via the mass media to overthrow or forcibly change the constitutional regime".  He was, in fact, sentenced on 1 August however the information was only released to the public a month later. 

Klimov had previously spent 4 years in prisons and penal colonies, most of that time as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience for his opposition activities. He was initially accused of economic crimes and sentenced to six years imprisonment after initiating an attempt to have President Lukashenko impeached in the run-up to the referendum of 1996.

His wife, who recently had a long-stay meeting with her husband in the penal colony, has spoken of the threat to his health.  Andrei had a heart attack while being held in the remand centre.  He now has a very low haemoglobin level which is apparently a clear symptom of radiation poisoning.  The penal colony where he is held is within the exclusion zone [following the Chernobyl Disaster].  There is also an oil processing plant nearby, and the prisoners are made to work on a copper plant, which is deemed hazardous word.  Ms Leonovich-Klimova said that she had made a formal application to the penal authorities to have her husband taken off such dangerous work due to the state of his health.  She has been told he will be moved to other work.

The fact remains, however, that Andrei Klimov is being held in a penal colony with long-term prisoners despite having committed no crime by the standards of any law-based society.  He is a political prisoner whose life and health are in jeopardy over his commitment to freedom of speech and wish for a democratic government in his country. 

And it’s 2008.  We do not have the facilities of international organizations.  Please write to your country’s Amnesty International office, ask them to make Andrei Klimov a prisoner of conscience.  Or write to us at [email protected]  and we will try to speak out with one voice. 

If we simply watch the worst aspects of the Soviet era return and do nothing, we also bear responsibility. 

Halya Coynash

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