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US Lawyer Imprisoned in Belarus on Widely Denounced Charges Freed

US Congressional Delegation Secures Release of Emanuel Zeltser


First interview outside the KGB prison gate: " KGB is not 'a thing of the past' and the government sponsored terrorism is not peculiar to the rogue nations of the Middle East. It exists today in the very heart of Europe and feeds off our own financial institutions."


Emanuel and Vladlena


After nearly 16 months in captivity, Emanuel Zeltser, ARLI Director and General Counsel, was freed by the Belarusian president amidst unprecedented US and international pressure. Vladlena Funk, Mr. Zeltser's assistant and a free-lance journalist for MT~Newswire, also held KGB hostage for over a year, was released in March of this year.

First interview back home in the US: "I was held hostage for over a year and rescued thanks to incredible efforts of the US  Diplomats, and members of the US Congress. God bless America!" See Vladlena on Wikipedia. Vladlena on MT~Newswire

US Senator Benjamin L. Cardin: "We welcome the release of Emanuel Zeltser. However, we made it clear to President Lukashenka that the only way to improve the relationship between our countries is for him to increase political freedom and respect for human rights."




click on picture to watch video  *  click here for transcript



American Human Rights Advocate and Lawyer Detained in Misk. Harvard Law - Media Republic



  Vladlena Funk's Flight to Liberty


Aleksander Lukashenko
Europe's last dictator

"I have never thought that this man could become an issue in relations between our countries ...    but If it is very important for America and our relations and contributes to normalizing our relations, I will sign the pardon today”



Commission on Security and
Cooperation in Europe
U.S. Helsinki Commission
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Chair
   Rep. Alicee L. Hastings, Co-Chair

Senator Cardin, U.S. delegation secure
release of U.S. prisoner in Belarus

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE || June 30, 2009 ||

MINSK, BELARUS—At the urging of U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and a seven-member Congressional delegation in Minsk today, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka signed official documents releasing American prisoner Emanuel Zeltser.

Mr. Zeltser has been in a Belarus prison since March 2008 after being 'convicted' in a secret trial. Arrangements are being made for Zeltser to be released tonight. Doctors have said that Mr. Zeltser's life depends on his release. The Helsinki Commission has consistently advocated for his release due to concerns over Zeltser's health and the fact he was convicted of espionage in a closed trial.

Despite the gesture, Chairman Cardin reminded President Lukashenka that improvements in human rights and democracy in Belarus remain critical to changing the U.S. relationship with the former Soviet state.

"We welcome the release of Emanuel Zeltser. However, we made it clear to President Lukashenka today that the only way to improve the relationship between our countries is for him to increase political freedom and respect for human rights," said Chairman Cardin. "Belarus should make progress on the conditions laid out in the Belarus Democracy Act if the country is to see any changes in U.S. sanctions here."

Congressman Elton Gallegly: "We are deeply troubled by Mr. Zeltser's arrest as well as the inhumane treatment he has received"


Congressman Christopher H. Smith: "All the talking in the world doesn't change the fact that President Lukashenka must act. The ball is in his court."

Charles (Chuck) Schumer, Senior US Senator, Committee on the Judiciary: do all in your power to see that Mr. Zeltser's detention matter is brought to a quick successful resolution.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State: "... focused on this very troubling situation..."


Barry Kamins, President, NYC Bar Association:  "The charge that was finally brought against Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk appears to have no basis to it."


Surrounded by reporters, US Consul Caroline Savage ushers Emanuel from the KGB prison.

Joseph L. Brand, Partner, Patton Boggs Foreign Affairs Law Expert: "This is a shining moment for international diplomacy... Belarus has restored the freedom of a man who was wrongly incarcerated."


IAN KELLY, US State Department Spokesman: "The United States welcomes the release of American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser from Belarus  prison but we still have other concerns of course with some of the actions of the Belarusian government"


IRYNA KHALIP, Belarus Prisoner of Conscience, 2009 Winner of Courage in Journalism Award:  "My warmest greetings on your release from unlawful KGB detention, another example of Lukashenka’s government hostage taking and violation of norms of international behavior. You are lucky to have had great support of the U.S. and European leaders. I admire your courage."






 Senator Ben Cardin: Lukashenko promised to release Emanuel tonight


Emanuel Zeltser: Berezovsky serves as cashier of the funds stolen by Lukashenko




Chronology of events

On June 19, 2006, President George W. Bush signed an emergency Executive Order 13405, decreeing sanctions against Aleksandr Lukashenka, Belarusian corrupt ruler, other members of Belarus totalitarian government for "undermining democratic process and constituting an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." Sanctions were also imposed upon Belarusian petrochemical conglomerate Belneftekhim, owned in part by Belarusian government.

On June 26, 2006, Belarusian authorities "retaliated" by declaring that they would "freeze any assets that U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may hold in Belarus." The relationship between the United States and Belarus had been rapidly deteriorating reaching its lowest point in early Spring of 2008.

On March 12, 2008, at 7:00 AM local time in Belarus, Lukashenka announced that US Ambassador Karen Stewart, one of Lukashenka's loudest critics, must leave Belarus immediately or be incarcerated.

Few hours prior to Lukashenka's announcement, at 11:00 PM local time in London, the Belarusian KGB operatives abducted US citizen and prominent New York attorney Emanuel Zeltser, and his assistant and free-lance reporter Vladlena Funk. 

During a business meeting at London's Nobu Cafe, Emanuel and Vladlena were drugged and secretly flown to Minsk aboard a private jet, belonging to a notorious Russian fugitive-oligarch Boris Berezovsky, close friend and associate of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka.

Immediately upon their landing in Belarus, Emanuel and Vladlena had been transported to "Americanka", a dread KGB prison in Minsk. There, Emanuel and Vladlena had been repeatedly tortured, Emanuel was denied critical medications for diabetes and heart disease, and told that they would remain in prison indefinitely unless the US lifts sanctions against Lukashenka and Belneftekhim.

Months later, responding to world's outrage over this blatant kidnapping and torture, Belarusian KGB press office issued an absurd announcement that Emanuel and Vladlena had been detained for "attempted commercial espionage". Belarusian government has never provided any documents evidencing or even spelling out any charges against the detainees -- despite repeated requests of the US Department of State and international organizations, including this Institute -- on the grounds that the matter was classified as "top secret."

World outrage

The abduction, unlawful detention and torture of Emanuel and Vladlena sparked international outrage. The US State Department and members of the US Congress repeatedly demanded the release of the hostages. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she is personally "focused" on what the State Department called “a very troubling situation” involving the abuse of an American citizen who was sent to a KGB detention cell in Belarus without any explanation.

Shortly after the abduction and imprisonment of Emanuel and Vladlena, in April 2008, the New York Bar Association sent a strongly worded letter to Lukashenka condemning KGB abuse of Emanuel and Vladlena and demanding their immediate release. The Bar Association Letter, states:

“The City Bar is greatly concerned about the arrests and detention of Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk and the reports of physical mistreatment of Mr. Zeltser. The conduct described above is inconsistent with Belarus’ obligations under international agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).”

The Association letter stated that the charge, which the KGB claimed to have brought against Emanuel and Vladlena, "appears to have no basis to it", lacks "any explanation or detail" and "concerns have thus been reported that this is a fabricated charge, created to justify their unlawful detention." 

As the US - Belarus standoff over Emanuel's abduction and torture continued and the US sanctions against Belarusian government were taking the increasing toll on Belarus, Lukashenka continued upping the antes. On May 1, 2008, he demanded that 10 members of American diplomatic mission in Belarus leave that country within 72 hours or be arrested. The US Embassy in Belarus was reduced to a skeletal crew making it more difficult to monitor and react to Emanuel's conditions in the KGB captivity. The struggle for his freedom however never stopped inside and outside Belarus.

In December 2008, eight ranking Members of the US Congress dispatched an urgent letter to Byelorussian dictator Lukashenka demanding immediate release of Mr. Zeltser stating:

"... we are writing to you today to express our grave concern regarding the health and well-being of Emanuel Zeltser, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Belarus... We are deeply troubled by Mr. Zeltser's arrest as well as the inhumane treatment he has received while in your government's custody...   during Mr. Zeltser's internment in Belarus he has been denied regular independent medical evaluation and the U.S. consul in Minsk has reported that he has been physically assaulted and abused while in detention. This abuse is unconscionable and has been reported by Amnesty International, which has urged authorities in Belarus not to subject Mr. Zeltser to "further torture and other ill-treatment" As you know, the U.S. Department of State has also directly expressed "deep concerns about the state of his health," and has repeatedly called for Mr. Zeltser's release on humanitarian grounds, as has Representative Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. We share their concerns and strongly urge your government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Zeltser... "

Simultaneously, a complaint alleging the Byelorussian authorities violated Mr. Zeltser’s civil and political rights was filed to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The 21-page complaint noted that I faced “physical beatings, inhumane and unsanitary treatment, including withholding physician-prescribed medications”, during his KGB detention. The case of unlawful detention was also brought up before the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

At the Hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the US Helsinki Commission,) “On Democracy and Human Rights in Belarus” Assistant Secretary of State, David J. Kramer said on September 16, 2008:

“In addition to the [undemocratic] conduct of elections in Belarus, another key issue in improving the relations between the U.S. and Belarus is Belarusian authorities' treatment of imprisoned U.S. citizen Emanuel Zeltser. Mr. Zeltser was arrested in March of this year and later convicted in a secret trial on charges of using false documents and economic espionage. Despite our many repeated requests, we have been allowed consular access to Mr. Zeltser only five times and were denied access to his closed trial. And despite our many efforts, including facilitating an exam by an American doctor and even bringing his medications to prison officials, Mr. Zeltser reports he has not been allowed access to all his prescription medicines or their comparable Belarusian equivalents. Our consular officer and the American doctor reported such a severe deterioration to his health since his imprisonment that we have requested Mr. Zeltser's release on humanitarian grounds. With a real possibility for a significant improvement in the relationship between U.S. and Belarus, we hope there will be a quick, humanitarian resolution in Mr. Zeltser's case. We will continue to request consular access to Mr. Zeltser to monitor his welfare as well as press for his access to his prescribed medicines. And as long as Mr. Zeltser's welfare remains endangered, we will continue our call for his humanitarian release.” 

Responding to the international pressure, KGB press office had made another bogus announcement, falsely stating that Emanuel and Vladlena had been "convicted" for "attempted commercial espionage" against Belneftechim in a so-called "closed-door trial". The charge of "espionage" has been a KGB-NKVD favorite since the dark days of Soviet oppression. The Belarusian government has never released or provided any documents of the purported "verdict" or any other disposition of the "closed-door-trial". When diplomatic officers of the US and Russian Embassies in Belarus requested to attend the "trial", their requests had been swiftly and unequivocally denied. It did not become known until later that the "closed-door-trial" was another KGB hoax and in fact no "trial" ever took place.

In February of this year, the House Foreign Affairs Committee released its report to accompany the Foreign Affairs Authorization bill, H.R. 2410. The law included the section on Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Belarus, which reiterated concerns about the authoritarian crackdown in Belarus by President Lukashenka. Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (The Helsinki Commission,) Senator Benjamin L. Cardin said at the Congressional Hearings:

“The U.S. Embassy in Minsk criticized the proceedings, noting that it was denied the opportunity to observe the trial. The State Department has repeatedly called for Mr. Zeltser's release on humanitarian grounds. So have others in Congress, especially my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, co-chairman Representative Alcee Hastings.”

         Senator Cardin further stated:

“The poor human rights record of President Lukashenka's regime is well known. No American--indeed no human being--should be subjected to the kind of treatment Mr. Zeltser has been forced to endure during his incarceration. Despite Mr. Zeltser's grave health condition--he suffers from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, severe arthritis, gout, and dangerously elevated blood pressure--Belarusian authorities have repeatedly refused to provide Mr. Zeltser with his prescribed medications.” 

Vladlena freed after a year in KGB prison

After being held in a Byelorussian KGB detention facility for  373 days, Vladlena, who is a Russian citizen and US permanent resident was finally released on March 20, 2009, after the Russian Ambassador to Belarus hinted that her continuous detention may have a negative impact upon the relationship between the two countries. After she was freed, the world learnt the horrible truth about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the Byelorussian KGB. "I was held hostage for over a year" Vladlena said during her first press-conference. "I was rescued from this unlawful detention thanks to the incredible efforts by the US diplomats. God bless America."

But Emanuel's imprisonment continued while the Byelorussian authorities tried to negotiate a deal with the US Department of State to trade Mr. Zeltser's freedom for the US lifting sanctions against Belarus.  The US government took a firm stance of not using its citizen held hostage as a "bargaining chip" said Jonathan Moore, US chargé d'affaires in Belarus. US and international pressure on the government of Belarus to free Emanuel Zeltser grew more intense.

On June 12, 2009, Administration of Barack Obama, continued and expanded the sanctions pursuant to the "Notice on Continuation of the National Emergency With Respect to the Actions and Policies of Certain Members of the Government of Belarus and Other Persons That Undermine Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus."

On June 30, 2009, a delegation of US Senators and Congressmen traveled to Belarus and demanded the immediate release of Mr. Zeltser. Yielding to this unprecedented pressure from the US and European Community, Byelorussian dictator Lukashenka signed an order decreeing  Mr. Zeltser's release. "I never thought that this person could become an issue in relations between our states,” Lukashenka said, "[but] if it is very important to America and our relations and may contribute to the normalization of our relations, I’ll sign the edict today." Mr. Zeltser was released from KGB detention late the same day.

"This is a shining moment for international diplomacy" said Joseph Brand, a senior partner with Patton Boggs, a Washington law firm that worked with the US State Department and members of Congress to secure Zeltser's freedom, "Belarus has restored the freedom of a man who was wrongly detained" he said.

Concerns over Belarus human right abuses remain

"The United States welcomes the release of American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser from Belarus  prison," said Ian Kelly, spokesman for the US Department of State. But Mr. Kelly said : "We still have other concerns of course with some of the actions of the Belarusian government." US Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, who headed the US delegation to Belarus said: "We welcome the release of Emanuel Zeltser. However, we made it clear to President Lukashenka that the only way to improve the relationship between our countries is for him to increase political freedom and respect for human rights.


For more information about Vladlena's and Emanuel's
plight email the Institute at: hostage@russianlaw.org



Copyright © American Russian Law Institute
all rights reserved


Adolf Hitler - Lukashenko's role model

Byelorussian dictator exposed

 "Hitler created strong Germany thanks to the strength of his presidential powers. This is our understanding of what presidential republic and role of the president are."  Aleksandr Lukashenka,


U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

Belarusian government's human rights record remained very poor as government authorities continued to commit frequent serious abuses. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, and imprisonment of citizens for political reasons also continued. The judiciary branch lacked independence and trial outcomes usually were predetermined. U.S. Department of State Report on Human Rights in Belarus


Press Secretary of the Belarus
Helsinki Commission

"This is yet another shameful case for the Belarusian judiciary for which more than one generation of Belarusian legal experts will blush,"


Anatoly Lebedko, Chairman Belarusian United Popular Party: Washington simply was forced to pay ransom for its citizen by means of providing Lukashenka the IMF credits. In essence, this is hostage-taking, the practice, which is wide-spread in Belarus. It now elevated to international level, where Lukashenko is not only sending a political message but demands monetary compensation for human freedom.


Oxana Adler, Director and International Counsel of American Russian Law Institute: "Another great victory for American diplomacy"





US Department of State Background Note: Belarus

Executive Order 13405 decreeing sanctions against Belarus

CIA Factbook: Belarus

Amnesty International Emergent Alerts re: Emanuel

Death threats on reporter Iryna Khalip,
winner of 2009 Courage in Journalism Award

The UN Report Human Rights in Belarus

EU  sanctions Lukashenka

U.S. State Department:  "Belarus Cracks Down"

Belarus - "Terrorists Arms Depot" 

Belarus Arms Transfers
Accountability Act of 2009

"Reacting to Sanctions, Belarus Expels 10 More U.S. Diplomats." Washington Post

Report by the International Federation for Human Rights on prison conditions in Belarus

Reports of Associated Press and
BelaPAN of April 29, 2008

UCSJ letter to Lukashenka

U.S. State Department daily briefing, and Fox News report "American Prisoner Abused in Foreign Prison."

Notice of Continuation of
National Emergency - Belarus

Hostages released. Charter 97 report.

Secretary of State Rice’s interview
with CNN re: Belarus

Resolution of the UN General Assembly on Situation of human rights in Belarus

Declaration by the President of European Union on human rights

European Council conclusions on Belarus  

U.K. Foreign Office 27 June 2008
Release on Belarus Human rights.