Home > News > World
Sunday June 22, 2014 MYT 4:40:16 AM
Sunday June 22, 2014 MYT 4:40:28 AM
MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus on Saturday unexpectedly freed leading rights activist Ales Belyatsky, whose jailing for tax evasion in November 2011 prompted an outcry in the European Union and human rights circles.
Belyatsky, 51, who headed the rights group Vesna-96 and was serving a 4-1/2-year sentence, told journalists his release was unexpected.
"They amnestied me. ... They let me go only an hour ago," he said after arriving in Minsk on a train.
Belyatsky was arrested and charged after officials in EU members Poland and Lithuania unwittingly helped his prosecution by supplying information about bank accounts held in his name after a request by Belarus' financial authorities.
Belarus imposes tough restrictions on the financing of non-governmental organisations and their activities that virtually rule out any financial help from abroad.
Under his leadership, Vesna-96 campaigned for scores of opposition activists prosecuted by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.
At the time, the EU denounced Belyatsky's sentence as "clearly politically motivated" and said it symbolised an intensifying crackdown on Lukashenko's political opponents.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet republic for 20 years, and other officials are subject to travel restrictions by the EU and the United States because of his harsh policies at home that have neutralised the political opposition.
The United States welcomed Belyatsky's release and urged Belarus to free all political prisoners and restore their political rights.
"These actions would pave the way for normalisation of relations between the United States and Belarus," the State Department said in a statement.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Cooney)
Migrant chaos at Budapest train station; Germany says EU rules still hold
Britain to make wording of EU referendum question more neutral
Thailand arrests second 'important' suspect in Bangkok blast probe
Beirut protesters occupy ministry and call anti-government rally
Turkish raids on firms close to cleric raise fears of pre-election crackdown
Five unusual ways to build endurance for a marathon
Jobless woman happy to own a house
Key Apple music exec steps down
Downpour fails to deter Merdeka eve celebrations
Copyright © 1995-2015 Star Media Group Berhad (ROC 10894D)(Formerly known as Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad)