April 21, 2012 / 5:49 PM / 7 years ago

Belarus leader says will jail freed foe if he "blabbers"

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday he would jail Andrei Sannikov, a recently released opposition leader, if he “blabbers” or if the West increases diplomatic pressure on Minsk to reform.

In an apparent attempt to discourage Sannikov from talking about his time in jail, Lukashenko made it clear he would send his political foe and one of Sannikov’s allies back to jail if he was displeased with them.

“One more (act of) pressure and those blabbermouths who have been set free and should say thanks for that may return to prison,” Lukashenko told reporters on Saturday.

“If they blabber, they will go back there.”

Earlier this month, Lukashenko pardoned Sannikov and one of his political allies after the European Union imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on a number of Belarussian officials and businessmen to help secure the men’s freedom.

Sannikov, 58, ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 presidential poll which Western observers criticized as fraudulent. The vote handed Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager, a fourth term in office.

Sannikov was sentenced to five years in prison last year for taking part in a protest against Lukashenko’s re-election.

He told Reuters in an interview after his release that the authorities had tried to push him to commit suicide while he was in jail, urging the West to keep up pressure on Minsk to ensure the release of other political prisoners.

Human rights activists say about 15 people are still kept in Belarussian prisons on political grounds.

Sannikov is one of the leading opposition leaders in the tightly run authoritarian nation and his wife, a journalist, was also jailed by the authorities. She had already been released.

Lukashenko has run Belarus since 1994, tolerating little dissent and maintaining a welfare state thanks largely to Russian economic support.

Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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