Leading Russian Activist Urges Moscow to Defend Human Rights in Belarus


A leading Russian human rights activist bemoaned the closure of Belarus' largest and most influential rights organization Wednesday and called on Moscow to do more to defend rights in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic, The Associated Press news agency reports.

The criticism by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a respected veteran activist from the Soviet era, came nearly four weeks after Belarusian authorities ordered the shutdown of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee for alleged tax and other violations.

The committee had been a persistent critic of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who systematically has quashed dissent in his country and who often is described by the West as "Europe's last dictator."

"In Russia, our work isn't easy but there is no comparison to what they're experiencing," Alexeyeva said at a news conference, calling the demand by Belarusian authorities that the committee pay taxes on grants and donations ludicrous.

"This is not a casino or a pasta factory; the BHC does not earn anything itself," she said.

Kremlin-connected foreign policy analyst Sergei Karaganov said Russia long Belarus' closest ally should change its economic policies and end long-standing subsidies on natural gas and other products that many say have allowed the iron-fisted Lukashenko to stay in power.

"If Russia wants to be free, it should direct its attention to freedoms in Belarus," he said.

The United States and European Union imposed visa bans on Lukashenko and other senior Belarusian officials after Lukashenko won a third term in March 19 elections deemed fraudulent by Western governments and Belarusian opposition groups.

On Monday, the United States also imposed financial sanctions on Lukashenko and other top officials.