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Belarus government frees jailed opposition leader

[JURIST] Belarusian officials released opposition politician Alexander Kozulin [CFR profile and interview] from prison Saturday after two years' detention for staging political protests. Kozulin was sentenced to more than five years in prison in July 2006 for leading unauthorized protests over the controversial re-election [JURIST reports] of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile] earlier that year. Authorities granted him temporary leave [JURIST report] in February this year to attend his wife's funeral, a move US State Department officials said [press release] at the time was laudable but insufficient. On Saturday, State Department officials applauded his latest release, saying the US "look[s] forward to other positive steps from the Belarusian authorities that could open the possibility of a significant improvement in relations between the United States and Belarus." It is unclear whether the current release is permanent or also temporary to allow Kozulin to attend the pending of his funeral father-in-law. Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

The US State Department severely criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report] in March. The UN General Assembly Third Committee, as well as the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports], have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. Lukashenko has recently sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, but the US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus pending the release of all political prisoners, including Kozulin.

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