Washington, DC,March 2, 2006
Freedom House strongly condemns today's beating and detention of opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin by the Belarusian police. Kazulin was trying to enter the All-Belarusian People's Assembly, headed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, which opened in Minsk today.
This move comes just a few weeks ahead of Belarus's March 19 presidential elections, in which Lukashenka will face Kazulin and two other candidates for the presidency. Opposition candidates in Belarus have faced a number of obstacles in conducting campaigns; new laws introduced in November 2005 criminalize activity considered by the authorities as potentially aiming to bring about regime change. This includes organizing public protests and making statements that "discredit the state."
"The beating of Mr. Kazulin bodes very badly for opposition candidates in the upcoming presidential election. It seems that Lukashenka will stick to his word and use violence to suppress all forms of popular dissent," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "This event only underscores the vital need for the international community to monitor the campaign and election proceedings in Belarus, and to strongly support the Belarusian people who are legitimately requesting their freedom."
In a television interview in late January, Lukashenka warned that any attempts to destabilize the country's political situation would be met with "drastic action" by the state.
Lukashenka has been president of Belarus since 1994. Parliamentary elections in 2004, which were widely denounced as falling short of democratic standards, were accompanied by a referendum that eliminated presidential term limits.
Belarus is rated "Not Free" in Freedom House's annual survey, Freedom in the World, and is counted among the world's most repressive regimes.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in Belarus since 1991.