To: National and International desks
Contact: Sean Woo of Helsinki Commission, 202-225-1901; Web: http://www.csce.gov
WASHINGTON, March 17 /U.S. Newswire/ -- U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) today described Belarus' election as a farce. "The detention of hundreds of opposition activists in advance of Sunday's voting in Belarus has deprived opposition campaigns of their leaders, further contributing to a climate of fear in that country. Newspapers have been seized. An early voting system is in full force in which people are being pressured to vote for the regime. International observers are being detained, denied visas or turned away at the border. Belarus' KGB chief is engaging in hysterical threats that protests will be viewed as 'terrorism' and Lukashenka is threatening to 'break the neck' of dissent. These are all indications of a regime terrified of its own people and that has no intention of conducting a free and fair vote," concluded Chairman Brownback. "Once again, Lukashenka is taking no chances and tightening his grip as Europe's last dictator."
Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) concurred: "We see acts of desperation by a despot interested in one thing: maintaining power no matter what. The regime is fueling an already tense situation, brought about by its wholesale violations of elementary human rights and democratic norms. Far- fetched accusations of opposition plans for an uprising show contempt for the people of Belarus and are reminiscent of the Soviet Union circa 1938. I am deeply concerned over the escalating paranoia evidenced by Lukashenka and his inner circle and their threats to resort to force in the face of peaceful dissent."
In the last day alone, the Belarusian authorities have detained a group of Georgian parliamentarians, denied visas for Members of the European Parliament, two Helsinki Commission staff members and other OSCE observers, and turned many away at the border, underscoring that regime's siege mentality.
Helsinki Commission staff members Ronald McNamara and Orest Deychakiwsky were denied accreditation by the Central Election Commission and visas to observe Sunday's elections. The two were to have been part of the OSCE's International Election Observation Mission to Belarus, headed by Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).
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: http://www.csce.gov
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.