France denounces new Belarus opposition conviction

France on Thursday denounced the jailing of a Belarussian opposition activist, saying the action ran counter to efforts by the former Soviet republic to improve its human rights record and move closer to the West. Skip related content

Ambassador Mireille Musso was commenting on a one-year jail term handed down by a provincial court to Artyom Dubsky on the grounds that he had violated the terms of his probation.

"This was an unpleasant surprise for all of us. It is completely at odds with the steps taken previously and with statements that have been made," Musso told a news conference.

Musso told reporters she understood the ruling was "in accordance with the criminal code now in place". But Belarus had to change its legal practices if it wanted to press on with its bid for acceptance by Western countries, she said.

Veteran President Alexander Lukashenko, long accused of crushing fundamental rights, has sought to improve links with the West, principally the European Union, since quarrelling with traditional ally Russia over energy prices in 2007.

Belarus last year released the last detainees considered political prisoners in the West -- part of a series of concessions. The EU has lifted a visa ban on Lukashenko and other top officials and invited Belarus to attend its May "Eastern Partnership" summit with ex-communist countries.

Last week, the president pardoned a U.S. lawyer jailed for industrial espionage as a gesture to Washington, Belarus's harshest Western critic.

Dubsky was originally sentenced to two years' probation for taking part in unauthorised demonstrations. He violated the terms of the ruling by leaving his home town and living for a time in Ukraine and was detained by police on his return home.

Detention of activists is now a rare occurrence in Belarus, especially as demonstrations organised by the liberal and nationalist opposition tend to attract only small crowds. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, writing by Ron Popeski, editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)



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