Natallia Hersche: Swiss-Belarusian ‘political prisoner’ freed after 17 months

Access to the comments Comments
By AP  with Euronews
People with old Belarusian national flags gather during an opposition rally in Minsk in September 2020.
People with old Belarusian national flags gather during an opposition rally in Minsk in September 2020.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/, FILE

A Swiss-Belarusian woman has been freed after spending 17 months in prison for taking part in opposition demonstrations.

Dual national Natallia Hersche was arrested in Belarus in September 2020 for protesting against the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

She had been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison but was released from the Mogilev prison in eastern Belarus.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that Hersche was now at the Swiss embassy and would immediately return to the Alpine country.

“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.

“We wish her good luck and good health in the times ahead,” he added in a statement.

Human rights advocates had labelled Hersche a "political prisoner" and her arrest had caused further tensions between Bern and Minsk.

Amnesty International said Hersche was sentenced in December 2020 for resisting arrest and removing a balaclava from a riot police officer.

During her detention, the 52-year-old had gone on hunger strike and was transferred to the high-security prison in Mogilev, known for its harsh conditions.

Swiss diplomatic staff said they had met with her 14 times since she was taken into custody and said her release was a "result of intensive efforts".

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus' exiled opposition leader also welcomed Hersche's freeing on Twitter.

“So relieved that Swiss-Belarusian citizen Natallia Hersche will return to her loved ones," Tsikhanouskaya wrote, "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.”

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.

Additional sources • DPA