Lukashenko Working on His Image

Former Belarusian presidential candidate and the country's best-known political prisoner Alexander Kozulin was released from prison over the weekend. He was furloughed to attend the funeral of his mother-in-law, but a number of high-placed sources told Interfax information agency that Kozulin, who was convicted of taking part in an unauthorized public meeting, has been amnestied by order of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. If that is officially confirmed, it can be considered the first step in the recently undertaken campaign to improve the regime's image. Kozulin had already exhausted all forms of appeal of his sentence.

Kozulin's daughter Olga stated that the prisoner's family informed the administration of the Vitebsk prison colony of the death of Kozulin's mother-in-law on the morning of August 16. Several hours later, it became known that he would be released to attend her funeral. Kozulin was arrested on March 25, 2006, for organizing a protest against "the falsification of the presidential elections." He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on July 13 of that year. The European Union and United States have repeated called for his release, and his imprisonment is among the reasons behind the economic sanctions imposed on Belarus by the U.S.

Lukashenko claimed in March of this year that Kozulin was given the chance to accompany his wife Irina, who was suffering from cancer, to Germany to treatment at the end of February. Kozulin denied that statement. His daughter explained later that a condition of her father's release was that he not return from Germany. When Irina Kozulina died, her husband used the threat of a hunger strike to obtain release for three days to attend her funeral. Several thousand residents of Minsk took part in the funeral ceremony for Irina Kozulina.



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