Freed Belarus Presidential Candidate: Lukashenko Only Responds to Pressure

Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov speaks during an interview with Reuters at his apartment in Minsk, April 16, 2012.
Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov speaks during an interview with Reuters at his apartment in Minsk, April 16, 2012.
James Brooke

Andrei Sannikov ran for president of Belarus in December 2010 against Alexander Lukashenko, ruler of Belarus since 1994. For his pains, Sannikov and six other presidential candidates were beaten by police and  jailed. On Saturday night, the eve of Orthodox Christian Easter, Sannikov was unexpectedly released from jail.

After 16 months in jail, Andrei Sannikov said Monday that he was literally blinking in the sunshine.

He spoke of his sudden reunion in Minsk with his wife, Irina, and their four year old son, Danil.

“Fantastic; that was something I waited for  so long, and I hoped - not every day, [but] every second - I hoped that it would happen, and finally it happened,”

Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, honed his English while working as a diplomat in New York. He said he fears for the 15 other political prisoners in Belarus, including one other former presidential candidate.

Sannikov was released early from a five-year sentence. He described the pressure of living in a high security prison, controlled by a security agency still called in Belarus, the KGB.

“It was really unbearable psychologically, and physically also," he said. "There was a lot of pressure on me, threats, pressure and for almost four months I was in [a] solitary cell.”

As a politician, Sannikov led “European Belarus.” He said Belarus should look west and join the European Union. As leader of a cause popular among young people in this Central European nation, he said he felt that his life was always in danger in prison.

He said the most frightening times came when he was locked in prison railroad cars with criminals and moved from prison to prison.

“You can expect anything there because you are not controlling the situation," he said. "You are absolutely helpless. They could plant with you any criminal with whatever intentions or instructions. It was really very dangerous situation. You have to be on guard 24 hours a day.”

While Sannikov was in prison, President Alexander Lukashenko moved closer to Russia, receiving loans that saved Belarus from falling into a deep recession.

In the West, European countries saw no progress on human rights. They withdrew all their ambassadors and tightened sanctions against Lukashenko regime officials.

Sannikov praised the European Union for following Washington’s lead and adopting a tough sanctions policy.

He said the West should treat the Lukashenko government the way it once treated the Soviet Union.

"It was based on principle," said Sannikov. "So we have to base our policy, our activity here, in Belarus, on principle, and the West, the democratic world in general, has to base their policy on principle."

He said that the beating and jailing of almost all the opposition presidential candidates exposed to Europeans the clearly dictatorial nature of the Lukashenko government.

“Before, the regime was pretending that we are not a totalitarian state, that there is a kind of democracy here in Belarus, that the West does not understand," he said. "But on the 19th of December 2010, the regime declared itself a dictatorship and we are facing all the consequences now.”

After watching Alexander Lukashenko rule Belarus for 18 years, Sannikov said the only language the dictator responds to is pressure. 

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs