Scottish ministers have made a gesture of support for political prisoners in Belarus by taking on “godparenthood” for five people imprisoned in the eastern European country.
Humza Yousaf was among five ministers who gave their backing to imprisoned opponents of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
A campaign by the German/Swiss organisation Libereco has encouraged European politicians to take over “godparenthood” for people jailed amid a government crackdown.
Mr Yousaf has become the 400th European politician – and the first leader of a government – to do so, becoming a godparent of rock musician Dzmitryi Halavacz.
Mr Halavacz’s supporters say he was sentenced to nine years in prison for crimes including “insulting the president” and his rock band, Tor, was declared an “extremist group”.
Belarus was the scene of mass protests in 2020 as Lukashenko retained power after an election condemned in the West as fraudulent.
The authoritarian ruler has been the country’s president for almost 30 years and thousands were detained as his government tried to stifle dissent.
The First Minister said: “Politicians who rage against democracy never prevail. I watched aghast as Lukashenko stole the election in Belarus in 2020, and the brutal crackdown on those who disagreed with him that followed.
“As the first head of a government anywhere in the world to sponsor a political prisoner of the Belarus regime, I encourage others to join Scotland in unequivocally condemning the abuses carried out by the Lukashenko regime against the Belarusian people.
“Dzmitryi has been handed a nine-year prison sentence – simply for exercising his freedom to speak out, and protest.
“I hope by shining a light on what him and others are facing in Belarus (that) I, and the Government I lead, can raise awareness of and support for him, and for the thousands of other political prisoners.”
External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson, who is also taking part in the campaign said: “The Scottish Government stands with those who suffer injustices, and we will use our platform to advocate for change.
“By participating in the Libereco godparenting scheme, we hope to bring further international attention to the human rights situation in Belarus and we stand united with those who seek fairness, equality and justice.”