Lukashenko's Gulag

Belarus has long stood out as one of the most repressive of the former Soviet republics. Now we have fresh evidence of the cruel lengths to which its president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, will go to crush all challenges to his dictatorial rule. Jailing a leading opposition presidential candidate and the candidate's wife, a journalist, was not enough. His government is threatening to seize custody of the couple's 3-year-old son.

Danil Sannikov has lived with his grandmother since his parents - Andrei Sannikov and Irina Khalip - were arrested last month. Mr. Sannikov was severely beaten. They were among thousands who protested in Minsk on Dec. 19 after Mr. Lukashenko stole his fourth term.

More than 600 people were arrested, including seven of the nine presidential candidates. After monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe accused the government of election fraud, the government ordered the organization out of the country.

The United States and the European Union rightly condemned the repression and called for the release of opposition activists. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reinforced that message by meeting with Belarussian human rights activists. Washington imposed sanctions on Belarus after the fraudulent 2006 vote and should consider whether they should be tightened.

The European Union has greater leverage and must re-evaluate its effort to encourage reform in Belarus with offers of improved relations, credit and economic aid. When it comes to Mr. Lukashenko, there is nothing to encourage.

Poland is trying an alternative approach. It has announced plans to abolish national visa fees for Belarussian citizens, open universities to independent-thinking Belarussians who can no longer study at home and create a center in Warsaw for the Belarussian opposition. Poland, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic are also pushing the European Union to reinstate a travel ban that was imposed on Mr. Lukashenko and other officials after the 2006 vote.

Mr. Lukashenko clearly thinks that his improving relations with Russia means he can thumb his nose at the West. The Kremlin, of course, said nothing about the stolen election and has enabled him with recent oil and gas agreements. Europe and the United States must now push back hard. There is little hope for democratic change in Belarus unless Mr. Lukashenko is forced to pay a stiff price for his abuses.


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