US lawmaker calls for Belarus dissidents' release

Top Democratic senator Dick Durbin, pictured in 2010, called Saturday for the release of jailed dissidents in Belarus one day after visiting Minsk, scene of a violent crackdown in the wake of disputed presidential elections last month.

Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, made the visit Friday and met with opposition leaders, human rights activists and families of jailed activists and candidates, his office said.

"The Belarusian government must release all detainees and resume the path toward democracy," Durbin said in a statement.

"If Belarus expects to be part of the world community and expects an improvement of relations with the West, basic human rights and electoral standards must be respected," he said.

About 600 people, including most opposition candidates, human rights activists and journalists, were arrested after tens of thousands took part in the protests against Lukashenko's reelection.

The authorities have released hundreds of people but are still holding some of the country's most prominent opposition activists and journalists, as well as four candidates who stood against Lukashenko.

Earlier this week, the government charged 31 people with organizing the protests.

The authoritarian Lukashenko was overwhelmingly re-elected in the December 19 elections that were sharply criticized by monitors from Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"Not only has any semblance of democracy been shattered by the arrest of anyone running against Lukashenko, but his government has brazenly denied visitation rights for family members, access to legal counsel, medical care, and open court proceedings, as well as continuing to harass the families and lawyers of the detainees," Durbin said.

"Such actions must be halted immediately," he said.


Partners: Social Network