Belarusian authorities released Popular Front leaders Vyacheslav Sivchik and Yuri Khadyka from pretrial detention on May 17 and May 21, respectively, allowing them to be hospitalized. Sivchik had been on hunger strike for 18 days and Khadyka for 23 days. Both men were protesting their detention since April 26 as alleged co-organizers of that day’s 50,000-strong opposition demonstration in Minsk. Demands for their release had been endorsed by the government of neighboring Poland, international human rights organizations, and by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in what may have been his first-ever intercession on a human rights issue unrelated to the situation of "Russian-speakers" in a CIS country.
Sivchik and Khadyka will, however, be tried on charges of "organizing mass riots," which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. Since April 26, dozens of participants in that peaceful demonstration have been sentenced to up to 15 days in jail for offenses against public order. The trials were held behind closed doors inside the Internal Affairs Ministry’s detention center in Minsk under an accelerated administrative procedure, with police officers as the sole witnesses. (AP, Reuter, Interfax, May 20 and 21)
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