Swiss-Belarusian ‘political prisoner’ freed after 17 months
GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland’s government and an exiled Belarus opposition leader on Friday hailed the release of a Swiss-Belarusian woman detained by authorities in Belarus for nearly 1-1/2 years, who human rights advocates considered to be a political prisoner.
Dual national Natallia Hersche, 52, was freed from the Mogilev prison in eastern Belarus and set to return to Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said. Swiss diplomatic staff met with her 14 times since she was taken into custody in September 2020 and after being sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison.
“It is a great joy for my team and me that Natallia Hersche is finally free after all this work, and she can return to Switzerland,” said Swiss President Ignazio Cassis in a statement. “We wish her good luck and good health in the times ahead.”
The Swiss government said it remains committed to safeguarding human rights in Belarus, including securing the release of other prisoners, ensuring freedom of expression and investigating rights violations. It did not specify how Hersche’s release was secured.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader who challenged Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in a 2020 election, tweeted: “So relieved that Swiss-Belarusian citizen Natallia Hersche will return to her loved ones. She was released after innocently spending 17 months imprisoned in Belarus.”
“Nevertheless, 1061 political prisoners are held as hostages,” she added. “We can’t let the dictator use them to bargain.”
Amnesty international, the global advocacy group that works to free political prisoners and fight injustice, said Hersche was sentenced in December 2020 for resisting arrest and removing a balaclava from a riot police officer.