Belarus frees opposition leader after 3 years hard labour

Belarus on Saturday freed a leading opposition politician who served three years forced labour for protesting against the iron-fisted rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Paval Sevyarynets, 36, one of Lukashenko's most charismatic opponents, was sentenced in 2011 to three years of hard labour at a workshop in a remote village in the ex-Soviet country.

"I was freed at 3 am so that no one would have time to come and collect me. They took me to the rail station and didn't even let me make a call," he told AFP after his return.

"Now my task is to prepare a moral revolution," he said.

Belarus police briefly detained six journalists and several dozen supporters who came to meet the opposition politician's train in Minsk, only releasing them when he left the station.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, cracked down on the political opposition after protests against his latest election win in 2010.

Arrested in December 2010 at a rail station before he could even join the street protests, Sevyarynets was one of the prominent figures convicted in the crackdown.

Sevyarynets founded a youth movement called the Youth Front and is a leader of the unregistered Belarus Christian Democracy party.

He had previously done two years forced labour as a lumberjack for protesting in 2005 at changes to legislation allowing Lukashenko to serve as president for an unlimited number of terms.

Amnesty International considered Sevyarynets as a prisoner of conscience.

Belarus still has nine political prisoners recognised as such by the campaign group including long-term Lukashenko opponent Mikola Statkevich and the director of a leading rights group, Ales Bialiatski.