Thursday, 24 March 2005

Contributed by David Ferguson

"I am pleased to have had the opportunity to see Mr Marinich, particularly after recent reports about the state of his health," said OSCE Ambassador Eberhard Heyken. "While his health has certainly deteriorated since our last meeting, his mental resolve remains strong." At the end of 2004, opposition leader Michail Marinich was sentenced to five years in the high-security First Colony Prison.

Marinich is charged with misappropriating computers and other equipment from the US embassy in Minsk. However, Richard Boucher, US State Department spokesperson, said the charges are 'spurious' noting the US government has filed no complaint over the equipment: "The United States will consider measures it may take to hold accountable those Belarus officials who participate in such abuses of democratic procedures and human rights." Following an appeal on 18 February 2005, the Minsk Regional Court reduced the Marinich's sentence to three and a half years.

Earlier in March, Marinich suffered a stroke in prison as he had not been allowed medication previously prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure. This and other medicines are now being administered in the prison hospital. Marinich's current woes began in 2001 when he challenged incumbent Alexander Lukashenko in presidential elections.

"In this respect, we should not shrink back from speaking of a dictatorship as that is exactly what is growing stronger in Belarus," said MEP Elisabeth Schroedter. "And this is also the situation when political prisoners like Michail Marinich, Walerij Levonewski, Alexander Wassiljew and professor Jurij Bandaschewski suffer restrictions to their freedom."

OSCE chief in Belarus, Ambassador Eberhard Heyken, visited Marinich together with the British Ambassador, lawyer Vera Stremkovksaya. At Marinich's request, the head of the prison hospital was present throughout the one-hour meeting to answer questions related to the patient's physical condition. Interest in former Minister of Foreign Economics Relations Mikhail Marinich's plight remains high both in Belarus and the international community.