By Marlene Smith
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is expressing grave concern about the detention of opposition protesters in Belarus following controversial elections in the former Soviet Republic. The OSCE and other monitoring groups say the elections were undemocratic.
Ambassador Christian Strohal has just returned from an OSCE election observation mission in Belarus, where official result confirmed Alexander Lukaschenko as president with 83 percent of the vote.
But Ambassador Strohal says the election was marred by state oppression and election practices which fell well short of international standards.
"We have been observing, not only before, but also after the election, as you say, and have been seriously concerned about the way in which peaceful demonstrators have been treated, [people] have been arrested, have been detained, have been tried," said Strohal.
Opposition groups in Belarus say hundreds of demonstrators, including a presidential candidate were arrested, and some beaten by police.
"We have been requesting access, and we have been able to establish some contacts, and are trying to follow up on this," he added.
Belarusian authorities have announced the detained pro-opposition activists are now being given prison terms. The European Union is demanding that Belarus free the demonstrators.
The ambassador, who heads the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, calls civil society activists in Belarus very courageous, but says they are constantly under threat and harassment.
The U.S. and the EU have decided to impose sanctions on the Belarus government, including a travel ban on President Lukashenko who has ruled Belarus since 1994.