Belarusian opposition leader sentenced to prison

The Associated Press
Thursday, December 20, 2007

MINSK, Belarus: A Belarusian opposition leader was convicted Thursday of violating the terms of his forced labor sentence and sentenced to 18 months in prison, a human rights activist in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic said.

The one-day trial of Artur Finkevich, a leader of the Young Front organization, was held in the eastern city of Mogilyov, where he is serving a two-year sentence of labor and internal exile for graffiti construed as criticism of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The court found Finkevich, 21, guilty of violating the terms of his sentence and of bad behavior, rights activist Inna Kulei told The Associated Press. He had faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Prison is more punitive than labor and internal exile, which requires convicts to live under supervision in a specific city and report to an assigned job, often manual factory labor, but usually allows some freedom of movement.

Kulei said about 30 Young Front activists protested outside the courthouse, wearing shirts reading "Free Finkevich" and chanting "Freedom!"

Rights activists call Kulei one of at least six political prisoners in Belarus, where Lukashenko has been president since 1994, earning the condemnation from the West for his intolerance of dissent and oppressive rule.

The United States is considering new sanctions against Belarus because of its refusal to free political prisoners and allow democratic freedoms. The U.S. administration has listed the former Soviet republic as an "outpost of tyranny" along with other U.S. adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar.

Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/ White House News

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.

I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

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