Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Wednesday that the State Department brought home an American citizen arbitrarily detained in Belarus.
Vitali Shkliarov, a Washington, D.C.-area resident, returned home Tuesday night after spending three months in jail and house arrest in Belarus. A dual citizen of the United States and Belarus, Shkliarov visited Belarus earlier this summer to see family and friends before deep political instability wracked the Eastern European country.
Pompeo told reporters the retrieval of Shkliarov sends a strong message to governments holding Americans overseas.
"After three months of wrongful detention and house arrest, Mr. Shkliarov has been reunited with his family and has arrived in the United States," Pompeo told CNN. "As the President and I have made clear, we will not tolerate foreign governments wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens."
Shkliarov was held in Belarus during a time of mass protest and unrest in Belarus. Strongman Alexander Lukashenko secured a new term as president in what Washington called a "neither free nor fair" election. After Lukashenko cemented his continued status as president, a wave of dissidence erupted across Belarus, which authorities met with violent means and suppression of protests.
With his hold over the people slipping, Lukashenko actively solicited assistance from neighboring Russia, as Russian president Vladimir Putin dispatched troops to Belarus.
Shkliarov was highly critical of Lukashenko. The Belarusian-American worked on political campaigns in the United States, including those of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and former president Barack Obama, and drafted think pieces bashing Lukashenko’s abuse of political freedoms.
Shkliarov faced oppressive conditions during his detainment, including his imprisonment in what his attorney described as a dark, cramped cell with mold and cockroaches. Shkliarov’s attorney also confirmed that his release was secured in a phone call Pompeo made with Lukashenko this week.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration ordered a series of new sanctions on the Lukashenko regime to defend the human rights and political freedoms of Belarusians.
Meanwhile, securing the release of Americans overseas remains a major plank of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Earlier this month, the White House brought home two American hostages held by a Yemeni militia backed by Iran. All told, the current administration has so far brought home over 50 hostages from 22 countries.