Belarus warned about repercussions for crackdown on opposition

Washington, DC (March 14, 2006) - Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) condemned today's arrests of supporters and aides of opposition presidential candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich and yesterday's sentencing of numerous Belarusian and Ukrainian activists to up to 15 days in prison. This comes on the heels of last week's repressive measures against Milinkevich campaign assistants, including the sentencing to 15 days imprisonment of Belarus Popular Front Chairman Vintsuk Viachorka.

"These latest arrests follow a disturbing pattern, where activists - including senior campaign officials - are prevented from working actively on behalf of their candidates in the final days of the campaign," said Chairman Brownback. "Authorities who engage in attempts at intimidation, electoral abuse or violence will face repercussions from the international community," he continued.

"Mr. Lukashenka has continued to engender a climate of fear, while at the same time expressing confidence in his victory. I ask Mr. Lukashenka to stop the bullying and to give the people of Belarus a chance to freely determine their own destiny," stated Chairman Brownback.

Brownback also criticized Russia for its apparent complicity in forcing the very few remaining independent newspapers in Belarus to suspend operations as of yesterday. These media outlets learned that the Russian printing house they relied upon, for vague economic and political reasons, will no longer produce their editions for distribution in Belarus. "Clearly the Russian leadership is squarely behind Europe's last dictator as he intensifies his crackdown in the final days of the campaign," said Brownback.

"These latest arrests are without a doubt part of a pattern of intimidation and suppression of independent voices, which has escalated as election day approaches" said Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). "Moreover, the detention of non-partisan election observers and the beatings and detention of opposition candidate Aleksandr Kozulin and his supporters as well as journalists, cast serious doubt as to whether this Sunday's election can be in any way considered to be free and fair."

"The searches, confiscations, beatings, arrests and imprisonments harken back to Soviet times, underscoring the weakness of the regime. Such actions indicate the contempt for freely undertaken OSCE commitments, and stand in glaring contrast to the growing reality of a democratic and free Europe," noted Co-Chairman Smith.

A transcript of the Helsinki Commission's March 9 hearing "Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election," is available on the Commission's website:

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members of the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.