Belarus prisoner's wife appeals to Russia's 'first ladies'
The wife of Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko's jailed arch-foe appealed to the wives of Russia's ruling tandem on Monday to convince their husbands to secure her husband's release.
Irina Khalip's open letter was published in Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper for which she writes, after the journalist said during a news conference last week that Andrei Sannikov could be killed in jail.
"You are wives and mothers as well," Khalip wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's wife Lyudmila.
"And I urge you to convince your husbands to do everything possible to avoid the physical destruction of my husband Andrei Sannikov and to demand that Lukashenko release him and other Belarussian political prisoners."
The 57-year-old Sannikov is a well-respected former diplomat who represented Lukashenko's top competition in a December election that saw the veteran leader come away with about 80 percent of the vote.
Sannikov was arrested along with hundreds of others in the ensuing protests and thrown into a KGB holding cell. He was sentenced to a five-year jail term in May.
Khalip's plea comes amid mounting EU pressure on Lukashenko to free all political prisoners in return for economic aid for his crisis-hit ex-Soviet state.
Several European diplomats have reported direct negotiations with Lukashenko in which they discussed the option of Belarus releasing its prisoners and easing political restrictions in exchange for financial help.
But the unpredictable leader has publicly disassociated himself from such talks and recalled Minsk's official envoy to a meeting with EU nations held in Warsaw last week.
Minsk authorities released candidate Dmitry Uss after providing him with a presidential pardon over the weekend but have kept both Sannikov and another losing candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, in jail.
Sannikov's wife said last week her husband faced being killed in prison, adding the authorities wanted to break him so that he formally asks Lukashenko for pardon.
© 2011 AFP