Former opposition candidate arrested upon return to Belarus

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2015 7:19 AM
Former opposition candidate arrested upon return to Belarus

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A former opposition presidential candidate in Belarus was arrested Tuesday while returning to his country after four years in exile.

Ales Mikhalevich was among nine candidates who were arrested after the 2010 presidential election, which was won by the former Soviet republic's authoritarian leader. He was released after two months in a KGB jail and fled to the Czech Republic, where he received political asylum.

The border service said Mikhalevich was arrested while crossing into Belarus from Lithuania.

Writing on Facebook, Mikhalevich said he decided to return after President Alexander Lukashenko last month pardoned all six remaining political prisoners, including Nikolai Statkevich, the only former opposition presidential candidate still behind bars.

"I want to live in Belarus, in my homeland. I want to be with my family," Mikhalevich wrote. "I always said that when all political prisoners are freed ... I will return immediately."

Freeing political prisoners was a condition set by the European Union and United States for improved relations with Belarus. The EU and U.S. have maintained tough sanctions on Belarus since the violent suppression of peaceful protests during the 2010 presidential election.

Statkevich was convicted of organizing the unrest on election night and sentenced to six years in prison. Mikhalevich was facing the same charges.