Belarus Opposition Leader Sentenced, U.S. Opposed

By Olga Belogolova

In response to the Thursday, July 13 conviction and sentencing of former Belarusian presidential candidate, Alexander Kozulin, the United States condemned the trial for being "politically motivated."

At a court of the Maskouski district in Minsk, Kozulin, one of two opposition candidates that ran against Lukashenko, was sentenced to five and half years in a medium security colony for charges of "hooliganism" and for disturbing the peace.

In a statement released July 14, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman said, "The entire trial was a politically motivated process designed to punish Kozulin for expressing his political views."

McCormack continued by promising, "As we have done in the past, we will take steps to impose appropriate sanctions on those responsible for this abuse of a Belarusian citizen's rights."

In June, President Bush already imposed financial sanctions on Belarusian President Lukashenko and on nine other top officials in the Belarusian government, all of whom share the responsibility for hindering democratic developments in Belarus. To justify imposing these sanctions, the White House mentioned several examples human rights abuses, assaults on democracy, as well as the "fraudulent" presidential election held in March and the subsequent repression of the opposition.

In addition to this, as early as May 15, Bush banned Lukashenko and those involved in his government from traveling to the United States.

When the Belarusian presidential election took place in March 18, an international election observation team sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) noted that this election had failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. Consequently, the United States did not accept the results and supported the opposition in calling for new elections.

The European Union has joined the U.S, in imposing sanctions on Lukashenko's regime. The EU has imposed travel restrictions against Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials and has frozen all funds and assets of the 36 Belarusian officials who were "responsible for the violations of international electoral standards and the crackdown on civil society and the democratic opposition" in the March 19 presidential elections.

On March 25, a former rector of the Belarusian State University, Alexander Kozulin, was arrested while leading a peaceful protest against the false election held earlier that month.

In addition to the United States, the European Union has also condemned Kozulin's conviction and sentencing.

In a statement on July 13, The Embassy of Germany, which represents the European Union in Belarus, announced, "The verdict of the court contradicts basic freedoms, the rule of law and international commitments of Belarus." The statement also called for the immediate release of Kazulin and other political prisoners.

Similarly, McCormack's State Department statement also calls for Belarusian authorities "to free Kozulin and all those being held on politically motivated charges, including the four civic activists associated with the non-partisan monitoring group Partnership."

This Partnership is a nongovernmental organization in Belarus that is devoted to training Belarusian's to be election observers as well as educating Belarusian citizens on their voting rights under the Belarusian law.

Source: U.S. Dept. of State



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