Lithuania welcomes political prisoners from Belarus

A Belarus' opposition supporter protests in downtown Minsk on January 21, 2011, against President Aleksandr Lukashenko after he was sworn in for a fourth term, in a lavish ceremony boycotted by the West over a crackdown on the Belarus opposition after his disputed election victory. (AFP Photo/ Viktor Drachev )
Vilnius has said that the Belarusians jailed following the mass protests against the presidential election results in December of last year could find asylum in Lithuania.

The proposal was voiced on Wednesday by Emanuelis Zingeris, chairman of the Lithuanian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. The idea was prompted by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's offer to expel political prisoners to the European Union.

"If the EU wants to take them, no problem, we'll send them out tomorrow," Lukashenko said on July 7, during a working trip to the city of Shklov in the Mogilev Region."I'm ready to put all those for whom the West shows so much concern on a train, or even on board a plane – that would be faster – and send them out. Take them, if you want."

Zingeris said that the parliamentary committee discussed Lukahsenko's statement, and if it is true that the political prisoners would be allowed to leave Belarus and if they are willing to move to Lithuania, the former Soviet republic and current EU member would be ready to receive them.

“Unfortunately, as you can see, it is not the courts but Belarusian leaders who unilaterally make decisions regarding peoples’ fates,” the parliamentarian told journalists, cites Interfax.

“First of all, we demand that all political prisoners be set free without any conditions,” Zingeris said. According to the politician, the stance will be adopted soon at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “We cannot ignore such serious human rights violations which took place after December 19, when outstanding Belarusian politicians and artists were put behind bars. Therefore we, as a member of the EU, open our door [to the prisoners],” he stated.

A series of opposition protests took place in the wake of the Belarusian presidential election on December 19, which resulted in a landslide victory for Lukashenko. The opposition claimed the election results were falsified and demanded a new vote be held, albeit without the participation of the long-serving leader Lukashenko. The opposition protest was violently suppressed by police and about 700 people, including former presidential candidates, were arrested.

Scores of protesters, including three of Lukashenko's presidential rivals, were sentenced to terms in prison.

Minsk political repressions generated anger from the international community as the EU imposed a series of economic sanctions against the republic, while also putting Lukashenko and other state officials on a travel ban list.

Lithuania, however, has repeatedly said it is against broadening economic sanctions against Belarus. While supporting the opposition, Vilnius is not ready to completely break official ties with Minsk out of fears that it would only push its neighbor closer to Russia.