OSCE's election watchdog body concerned at further election-related arrests in Belarus

/ WARSAW, 2 March 2006 - The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is concerned about recent election-related events in Belarus, where a presidential candidate, his supporters and four civic activists have been detained.

Several people witnessed the arrest this morning of presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin. According to reports, excessive force was used against him at the Railway Workers Palace, where registration for the government-organized All-Belarusian People's Assembly was taking place.

ODIHR observers witnessed some of his supporters being detained by police when they gathered in front of the district police station where he was being held. They also witnessed force being used against these supporters, who were transferred to another police station. ODIHR observers were not permitted entry to either police station, and were denied information about the incidents and the condition of the detainees.

"Any arrest of a candidate during an election campaign raises concerns and needs immediate clarification by the authorities," said Ambassador Christian Strohal, Director of the ODIHR.

The ODIHR is concerned that this marks a serious deterioration in the campaign atmosphere. The Office is currently observing the run-up to the 19 March presidential election.

The arrest of Mr. Kazulin and his supporters follows the arrest on 21 February of four civic activists, including those involved in domestic election observation. According to a statement by the state security apparatus, the KGB, they are charged with "unlawful management of an unregistered organization" under the new criminal code provisions.

On 1 March, the KGB issued a statement to the media accusing the political opposition of planning a violent takeover of power, to be co-ordinated by the domestic observer group to which the four detained activists belong, based on falsified exit poll results and with the support of foreign "revolutionaries".

An ODIHR spokesperson said the ODIHR would continue to follow up on these events.

The ODIHR election observation mission is deployed in the Republic of Belarus at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It currently has 46 experts and long-term observers deployed in Minsk and around the country. The mission plans to deploy around 400 observers to cover election day.