Belarusian protester freed after five days in jail for anti-Lukashenko T-shirt


An opposition protester arrested in Belarus for wearing a T-shirt criticizing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has been freed after spending five days in jail.

Leonid Smovzh, a 53-year-old railroad engineer, said that for the first two days he was held in a cell with no heat or light, and he was given no food. He was set free Friday.

He was arrested after a protest Nov. 10 for wearing a T-shirt on which he had written: “For Belarus without Lukashenko.” On the back it said: “For Belarus without dictatorship.”

“Why did I write this? So that I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eye when they ask, ‘What did you do for us?’ ” Smovzh said.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic for 20 years, has shown little tolerance for dissent. Activists have been jailed for taking part in demonstrations during which they simply clapped their hands or smiled, in attempts to get around bans on political protest.

Ten people remain in prison on politically motivated charges, including a former presidential candidate who was arrested after the 2010 election.

Rights activist Yulia Stepanova said Smovzh’s arrest shows how difficult the situation has become in Belarus.

“A person doesn’t have the right to express his opinion anywhere or in any way,” said Stepanova, who met Smovzh outside the prison. She said the government wants there to be “total silence, so that there is ‘stability’ in quotation marks.”

Smovzh complained that while police gave him back his hat, scarf, documents and money, they refused to let him keep the T-shirt.