Belarusian political prisoner with cancer freed by Lukashenko in rare amnesty

Ryhor Kastusiou. Photo: Viasna

Ryhor Kastusiou. Photo: Viasna

A political prisoner with cancer serving a 10-year sentence in Belarus has been granted an early release from custody in an act of unusual clemency by dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna said on Wednesday.

Ryhor Kastusiou, a 67-year-old who underwent surgery for cancer in April, was first detained in April 2021 and charged alongside several other high-profile defendants with planning a coup d’état and attempting to assassinate Lukashenko in what became known as the “conspirators’ case”.

Lukashenko claimed that the group had plotted to kidnap his children, with the likely support of the CIA or FBI. Kastusiou was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2022.

Before his jailing, Kastusiou chaired the opposition Belarusian Popular Front Party, whose stated goal was “a Belarusian national revival”. The party has since been banned.

Amnestying political prisoners on health grounds would mark a major shift in policy for Lukashenko, who hadn’t until now amnestied a single political prisoner in the 30 years since coming to power. Several political prisoners have died while serving their sentences.

“Don’t be surprised if … some of the very seriously ill people … who didn’t manage to escape and … who broke and destroyed the country in 2020, will soon be released, the really seriously ill ones, most of whom have cancer,” Lukashenko said on Tuesday. “We take a human approach.”

The Belarusian regime is notorious for jailing its critics, a trend that became all the more pronounced following protests against the stolen 2020 presidential election. Many opposition politicians have disappeared into the prison system and continue to be denied access to lawyers or contact with their families, and in many cases it’s not even known if they are dead or alive.

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