Belarus Will Free U.S. Lawyer Held in Prison Hospital

Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus -- An ailing American lawyer who was imprisoned in Belarus last year on charges of using fake documents and attempted commercial espionage was pardoned Tuesday by the president of the former Soviet country, an official said.

Emanuel Zeltser, a 55-year-old diabetic, had been sentenced to three years in prison in August 2008. His supporters called the charges politically motivated. In November, Mr. Zeltser was placed in a prison hospital.

President Alexander Lukashenko "today signed a decree pardoning Zeltser," said Pavel Lyogkhy, a presidential spokesman, on Tuesday. "The speed of his release depends" on prison officials, Mr. Lyogkhy said, without elaborating.

Belarus and its authoritarian leader are courting better political and economic ties with the West, and the U.S. had said Mr. Zeltser's release would help the process.

A U.S. congressional delegation headed by Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland was told of the release announcement during a meeting Tuesday with Mr. Lukashenko. Mr. Zeltser's lawyer, Dmitry Goryachko, said he had informed his client of the decision.



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